Sep 18, 2019
Organic growers oppose gene-editing dialogue

The USDA's organic sealOrganic grower groups on Sept. 17 wrote to federal officials to voice their unified opposition to a formal dialogue about allowing gene-editing in organic agriculture.

A letter from the Organic Farmers Association (OFA), was signed by 79 organic farm organizations and sent to Secretary Sonny Perdue and other top officials and lawmakers.

“Introducing any dialogue about any form of genetic engineering into organics would be a major distraction for the USDA NOP and the National Organic Standards Board,” Kate Mendenhall, director of OFA, said in a press release. “We have crucial issues in organic agriculture that need the Department’s full attention, such as stopping organic import fraud, closing certification loopholes, enforcing our current organic standards equitably and uniformly, and updating obsolete database technology.”

Gene editing and all other forms of genetic engineering are currently prohibited under the guidelines of organic certification. The letter came in response to an earlier statement by Department Undersecretary Greg Ibach concerning opening a dialogue about gene-editing in organic agriculture.

During a House Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee meeting on July 17, 2019, Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Greg Ibach expressed interest in opening the discussion surrounding gene editing technologies and their possible uses in advancing organic agriculture, according to a press release from OFA.

“We’ve seen new technology involved, that includes gene editing, that accomplishes things in shorter periods of time that can be done through a natural breeding process,” Ibach said according to a video of the meeting. “I think there is an opportunity to open the discussion to consider whether it is appropriate for some of these new technologies that include gene editing to be eligible to be used to enhance organic production and to have resistant varieties: Drought-resistant, disease-resistant varieties as well as higher-yielding varieties.”

OFA said in a release that when the USDA was first writing the national organic standards in 2001, the USDA “tried to allow genetic engineering” and at that time, the organic community responded with over 400,000 comments demanding its prohibition. Since 2001, certified-organic food sales have grown while “consumer acceptance of genetically engineered products has dropped precipitously,” OFA wrote.

“Organic Farmers Association and the seventy-eight additional organic farm organizations are united in their refusal to revisit the conversation of genetic engineering and strongly opposes any attempt by the Department or its leadership to reintroduce the topic within the organic guidelines,” according to the press release. “OFA encourages Secretary Perdue to abandon the idea of possibilities for genetic engineering in organic agriculture and commit to a national organic label that strives for continual improvement and strong organic integrity.”

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