Seeds of dissent

Seeds of dissent

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Indeed, philanthropists have gotten behind the GMO cause to feed world hunger. GMO crops now include everything from drought-tolerant wheat and corn and bollworm resistant cotton to Roundup Ready soybeans, vitamin-enriched rice and pest-resistant potatoes and canola. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, 16.7 million farmers in 29 countries had adopted such technologies as of February 2012.

But the patent litigation against Monsanto, and the push toward an organically pure Willamette Valley, are still of concern.

Kurt Wickstrom, president of Betaseed in Tangent, a seed production facility with 100 employees, says the Willamette Valley produces seed sown on 1.2 million acres in North America, tying the area directly to more than 50% of the domestic sugar supply for North America, which is 90% Roundup Ready. The remaining sugar supply comes from cane.

“Most of the sugar factories in North America are owned by sugarbeet farmers,” he said. And if Roundup Ready sugarbeet seeds become unavailable, risk to farming families who have invested in the industry is high. Wickstrom says Roundup Ready seeds are necessary to manage the crop efficiently and make sure the sugar supply is reliable.

Also at issue for Greg Loberg, manager of West Coast Beet Seed Company in Salem, a cooperative that produces sugarbeet seed, is that litigation distracts farmers from crop isolation techniques that could remedy problems.

“Litigation is not good for business,” Loberg says. “It’s expensive and it really hampers communication and education. It’s unfortunate, because this ongoing litigation has a tendency to make enemies, rather than encourage coexistence.”

While that atmosphere persists, it will be years before anyone knows the outcome of the OSGATA litigation. Judge Buchwald dismissed the case on Feb. 24, finding that mere potential for injury to organic farmers isn’t the same as actual injury, or even controversy, particularly when Monsanto hasn’t sued any of the plaintiffs and none have lost organic certification over trace contaminants. But despite the suit’s inability to move forward in that New York courtroom, the issue will continue. OSGATA’s Gerritsen says the organization plans to appeal to help organic farmers survive.

“The organic consumer equates freedom from GMO products with organic crops. This is our customer,” Gerritsen says. “Any business has to meet and exceed the requirements of their customer to stay in business.”