organic and non-gmo trends

GMOs, limited technology, dwindling farmers threaten organic growth, Sen. Tester says

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

GMOs, limited technology, dwindling farmers threaten organic growth

Related tags Organic trade association Genetically modified organism Organic farming

The organic industry must overcome substantial hurdles to sustain its double digit sales growth, including the threat posed by genetically modified organisms, limited technological advancements and a dwindling farming population, said organic farmer and democratic Montana senator Jon Tester.

“There is a bunch”​ of “good things going on in organic,”​ including an 11% increase in sales in 2014 to $39.1 billion​, more than $550 million in organic exports​ last year and increasing market share nearing 5%, Tester told organic stakeholders gathered in Washington, D.C., April 15 for the Organic Trade Association’s annual policy conference.  

But, he added, “we have more work to do”​ to sustain and increase these advancements. Among the top priorities he suggested are addressing the threats posed to organic by GMOs, recruiting farmers into the organic sector and improving organic farming.

Threats posed by GMOs

Reflecting on the future and potential for organic foods in the U.S., Tester emphatically told organic stakeholders at the meeting that “the issue of GMOs should be front and center in your mind.”

He explained: “It is front and center of my mind,” ​because if left unchecked it will “take me off the farm”​ and likely drive other farmers out of the organic sector, as well.

The main issue is the threat of cross-pollination with GMO crops, which would disqualify previously organic crops because organic must be non-GMO, he said, adding: “For us, pollination is something that happens. You can’t stop it. It is the way it works. But if you get that cross-pollination, you have a problem … and it is a problem that will put us out of business.”

Tester also raised questions about the safety of GMOs, which most regulatory bodies in the world, including FDA, the World Health Organization and other international regulators, have said are just as safe as their conventional counter parts.

Nonetheless, Tester said additional research is needed, especially regarding the threat of allergens caused or triggered by GMOs.

“A lot of folks think [genetic engineering] is better than sliced bread. It may be better than sliced bread, but we don’t know because there is not the research out there to back it up,”​ Tester said. More research also is needed so “we know what we are getting ourselves into,”​ he added.

Mandatory labeling of GMOs also is necessary and would help consumers distinguish between organic and GMO products, Tester said. He promoted the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act​, which Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., introduced in February to require FDA to clearly label genetically engineered foods. 

He scoffed at other legislation introduced that includes voluntary labeling, saying that if GMO producers wanted to voluntarily label their products, they already would.

“The people who are so very, very proud of GMOs should be out there leading the charge to make [their products] labeled,”​ he added.

More farmers needed

Another challenge holding back the growth of organic, is insufficient supply due to insufficient organic farmers, Tester said.

He suggested that many farmers are hesitant to convert to organic, despite the huge price premiums, because the tools for organic farming are not as advanced or easy to use as those for conventional farming. For example, he noted that using GMO crops allow farmers to more quickly and easily spray for pests and weeds, and that these are harder to address in organic farming.

In addition, he said more research needs to be done to improve organic farming methods and help farmers improve how and when they plant and to predict demand.

Organic check-off could fund research

One way to fund these research needs is with money collected from an organic check-off campaign, he said, but he said industry needs to carefully consider such a campaign before moving forward.

“I am not saying it is the wrong thing to do and I am not saying it is the right thing to do. But be careful,”​ and “make sure that if we are going to do this, that this money is spent right and spent to put people back on the farm and not take them off,”​ he said.

“If we are going to do a check off then you really want to make a difference it ought to be put towards research,”​ he said.

He noted that there is some money for organic research in the current farm bill, including $20 million for agriculture research and extensive initiatives to improve weed management, and efforts to reimburse farmers for the cost of organic certification.

But, he added, many manufacturers also are funding food research. Rather than helping to build the farming community, though, this is pulling people away from the farms and into academic jobs. 

[Editor's note: Find out more about what is happening with GMO labeling and the pros and cons of mandatory versus voluntary labeling at our free online forum May 20. Quickly and easily register here​.]

Related news

Show more

Related products

show more

Consumer Attitudes on Ultra-Processed Foods Revealed

Consumer Attitudes on Ultra-Processed Foods Revealed

Content provided by Ayana Bio | 12-Jan-2024 | White Paper

Ayana Bio conducted the Ultra-Processed Food (UPF) Pulse survey, offering insight into consumers’ willingness to consume UPFs, as well as the variables...

Oat Groats – Heat-treated Oat Kernels

Oat Groats – Heat-treated Oat Kernels

Content provided by Lantmännen Biorefineries AB | 06-Dec-2023 | Product Brochure

Lantmännen offers now Oat Groats: Heat-treated oat kernels, also known as oat groats or kilned oats, undergo heat treatment to inhibit enzymes that could...

Oat Beta-glucan – Clean Label Texturizer

Oat Beta-glucan – Clean Label Texturizer

Content provided by Lantmännen Biorefineries AB | 21-Nov-2023 | White Paper

In today's health-conscious world, consumers seek transparent labels and natural ingredients.

Related suppliers

Follow us

Products

View more

Webinars