5.10 MYTH:

GM crops can “coexist” with non-GM and organic crops


Co-existence means widespread contamination of non-GM and organic crops

“OK, we know that cross-pollination will occur but we’ve got thirty years of experience to say we know how far pollen will travel. And therefore what we’ve done is we’ll grow a GM crop at a distance away from a non-GM crop, so the people that want non-GM can buy non-GM, and the people that want GM can buy GM. The two will not get mixed up. Everybody will have the right to choose.”
– Paul Rylott, seed manager for Aventis CropScience (now Bayer)137


The GM industry used to claim that GM contamination of non-GM crops could not occur. After it became clear that this was false, it shifted the argument to lobbying for “co-existence” of GM, non-GM, and organic crops. The industry now argues that farmers should be able to choose to plant GM crops if they wish and says that no serious problems are caused for non-GM and organic farmers.

But experience has shown that the arrival of GM crops in a country removes choice. “Coexistence” rapidly results in widespread contamination of non-GM crops, resulting in lost markets. Contamination occurs through cross-pollination, spread of GM seed by farm machinery, and inadvertent mixing during storage. Farmers are gradually forced to grow GM crops or have their non-GM crops contaminated.

Scientific studies confirm that GM contamination is unavoidable once GM crops are grown in a region. For example, GM herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape (canola) seed can persist and remain viable in soil for years. GM herbicide-resistant “volunteers” – plants that were not deliberately planted but are the result of germination of residual GM seeds from crops previously grown in the field – were found growing ten years after the GM oilseed rape crop had been planted.138 GM herbicide-resistant oilseed rape was found to be thriving in the wild in North Dakota, often far from areas of agricultural production. GM genes were present in 80% of the wild canola plants found.139,140

5.10.1. Who is liable for GM contamination?

In countries where legal liability for GM contamination is clearly established, GM crop cultivation has become severely restricted. In Germany, a law has been passed making farmers who grow GM crops liable for economic damages to non-GM and organic farmers resulting from GM contamination.141,142 The law has virtually halted the planting of GM crops in the country because farmers are not prepared to accept liability for contamination.142

The fact that farmers who previously chose to grow GM crops have ceased to do so because of the fact that they could be held liable for damages is clear evidence that coexistence is impossible. In light of this, it is not surprising that the GM seed industry has lobbied forcefully against the implementation of similar liability laws in the US and Canada.

The GM seed industry also knows it cannot contain or control its GM genes. In February 2011, after years of industry lobbying, the EU dropped its policy of zero tolerance of animal feed with unapproved GMOs, allowing contamination of up to 0.1%.143,144 In doing so, it granted industry release from liability for damages resulting from GM contamination with up to 0.1% of GM crop varieties (“Low Level Presence”) that are under evaluation but not yet approved in the EU.

In the United States, federal courts have recognised that GM crops are likely to contaminate non-GM crops. Two court rulings reversed US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approvals for the commercial planting of GM sugar beet and GM alfalfa. The courts ordered the USDA to halt planting of the GM crops until it had completed an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the environmental and economic effects of contamination of non-GM crops.

In the case of GM sugar beet, the USDA defied the court order and allowed farmers to continue planting the crop while it worked on the EIS. In the case of GM alfalfa, USDA completed an EIS in which it admitted that cross-contamination with non-GM alfalfa could occur and that the economic interests of non-GM growers could be harmed. But, bowing to heavy lobbying from the GM industry, USDA “deregulated” GM alfalfa, an action that superseded the court ruling and allowed planting of the crop without restriction.145

  • For references, please click here.
  • Download a PDF of the full GMO Myths and Truths report
  • We work hard to bring you reports backed up by strong science.
    Please help us by supporting our work.
    Donate button

Add comment

Security code