Following the debate threads #13 | Agriculture and contamination: can #GMO really contaminate #organic crops?

A couple of months ago, the Genetic Literacy Project published an article that particularly illustrates the complete disconnect between what science tells us about nature and how political rhetoric portrays it. Entitiled Myth busting on ‘contamination’: GMO farms’ halo effect often protects organic farms, it takes a swipe at the use of the word “contamination” in discussions about the possibility for genetically engineered (GE) and non-GE crops to grow in the same region. Here are the main arguments summarized in 3 points:

There is no such thing as contamination

There is cross-pollination and biology tells us that this is one of the basic processes of reproduction and evolution among plants. As such, it has been harnessed by farmer as the first mean of eating new breeds in agriculture 10’000 years ago. Moreover, crops that result from the cross-pollination between GE and non-GE plants are not particularly bad for the plants themselves, the environment or human health. At least, no one has proved that they are bad.

No, Monsanto has never sued farmers because some GE seeds found their way in their non-GE field

They only sued when it turned out that the farmers had been growing Monsanto branded crops without paying the fees. You can consider it to be unfair that there are patented breeds, but noone forced these farmers to use them. If they don’t want to pay fees for their crops, then, they can turn to the non-patented breeds out there or those that have fallen into the public domain (incidentally, this is the case for the first generation of GE breeds).

Organic farmers have less reasons to fear “contamination” than conventional farmers

Indeed, as the organic farmers have more difficulty controlling for pests, those tend to invade the nearby fields making the neighbor’s work more difficult. Moreover, when the farmers growing GE crops are succesfull at reducing, or even exterminating those pests, nearby organic farmers also benefit from these reductions! To such point that there are regions in the US, where organic farmers are growing their crops intentionally in the vicinity of GE crops!

A vision of nature that looks more creationist than scientific

All in all, the notion of “contamination” has nothing to do with nature. It mostly is a political notion and reveals the actual underlying ideology that motivates the organic movement: that of purity. Indeed, in many countries (but not in the US), if an organic crops is found to contain even the slightest trace of products from GE plants, it can loose the right to be sold under the organic label. As was proved by the Marsh vs. Baxter case (Australia), the damage to the organic farmers, whose field are “contaminated” with some GE seeds, doesn’t come from the GE seeds themselves, but from the organic associations delivering the “organic label” who have set up a zero-tolerance policy.

Here we can see how problematic the idealogy underlining the organic movement can be. It goes as far as rejecting what is a basic process of evolution: inter- or intra-breeding. Actually, it reveals a vision of nature that creationnist wouldn’t disagree with, that is of a creation set up once and for all, with each type of creature sitting in its place, which was rightfully attributed to it forever, with no movement or blending between them being allowed.I’m not saying that science should be a political compass, but it definitely provides the most reliable data about the material world we are a part of. As such, I believe that political decision should be based on such data and not on some philosophical construction based on remains of religious or superstitous beliefs in entities such as “Mother Nature” or “Gaïa”, wrapped up in some modern rhetorics parading as science.

Ariane Beldi

Assise à la fois sur un banc universitaire et sur une chaise de bureau, une position pas toujours très confortable, ma vie peut se résumer à un fil rouge: essayer de faire sens de ce monde, souvent dans un gros éclat de rire (mais parfois aussi dans les larmes) et de partager cette recherche avec les autres. Cela m'a ainsi amené à étudier aussi bien les sciences que les sciences sociales, notamment les sciences de l'information, des médias et de la communication, tout en accumulant de l'expérience dans le domaine de l'édition-rédaction Web et des relations publiques. Adorant discuter et débattres avec toutes personnes prêtes à échanger des points de vue contradictoires, j'ai découvert quelques recettes importantes pour ne pas m'emmêler complètement les baguettes: garder une certaine distance critique, éviter les excès dans les jugements et surtout, surtout, s'astreindre à essayer de découvrir le petit truc absurde ou illogique qui peut donner lieu à une bonne blague! Je reconnais que je ne suis pas toujours très douée pour cet exercice, mais je m'entraîne dur….parfois au grand dame de mon entourage direct qui n'hésite pas à me proposer de faire des petites pauses! Je les prend d'ailleurs volontiers, parce qu'essayer d'être drôle peut être aussi éreintant que de réaliser une thèse de doctorat (oui, j'en ai fait une, incidemment, en science de l'information et de la communication). Mais, c'est aussi cela qui m'a permis d'y survivre! Après être sortie du labyrinthe académique, me voici plongée à nouveau dans celui de la recherche d'un travail! Heureusement que je m'appelle Ariane!

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