Seeds of dissent

Seeds of dissent

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Organic seed plants at Gathering Together Farm are increasingly threatened by potential out-crossing with genetically modified varieties, particularly beets grown nearby.
// Photo by Alexandra Shyshkina
Supporters of GMO products like Steve Strauss, a professor in Oregon State University’s Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, say the organic marketplace simply needs to relax standards on purity.

“The contamination thing is really disingenuous at best,” says Strauss. “They have an economic grievance, but it’s really something they have imposed on themselves.”

Strauss says weeds, pesticide drift and out-crossing have always been facts of farming life. But because the organic community markets its lack of GMO traits, it’s tied to a zero-contamination standard, even while organic certification doesn’t require it. “All they need to do is say, hey, we need a reasonable threshold … and coexistence standards that agriculture has had for centuries.”

Strauss and others say the fuss about GMO meanwhile buries truths about its benefits to humans and the environment. The Roundup Ready trait, for example, greatly reduces the use of herbicide, cutting tractor time and reducing greenhouse gases. Because GMO crops are designed to increase crop yields, they also lower the price of food.

“Organic growers in the Willamette Valley may have some isolation problems. But they are going to be, in my opinion, outvoted by the fact that we want cheap food in this country,” says Gary Whiteaker of Madras, a retired consultant from global crop genetics broker Verdant Partners, based in Illinois. “GMO is a modern tool,” he says. “It’s no different than the tools in plant pathology and entomology that we’ve used for hundreds of years” to battle pests and disease, more critical as the world food supply shrinks.