One of the more ambitious proposals floated at the upcoming fall meeting of the federal National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is an industry-wide system of testing for GMO contamination of corn seed planted on organic land.
The NOSB, the 15-member panel recommending organic policy to the agency’s National Organic Program(NOP), meets Oct. 24-26 in St. Paul, Minn., to vote on a wide range of proposals.
But the proposal from the NOSB’s Materials subcommittee, titled “Genetic integrity transparency of seed grown on organic land,” which would require information on the level of purity in organic crop seed and would not set a tolerance level, could be a game changer.
Federal organic regulations do not allow the use of “excluded methods,” such as genetic engineering, in certified-organic production. However, the presence of genetically engineered material in an organic ingredient has to be intentional in order to be considered noncompliant.
Yet, to meet organic market demand, and to provide farmers with what they need to make informed decisions when choosing seeds, transparency of GMO contamination levels has become a necessity.
“Transparency about GE contamination provides the confidence to those entering organic production, and can help increase the acreage of domestic organic crops,” reads the subcommittee’s proposal. “The issue of maintaining the genetic integrity of organic and non-organic seed, and planting stock grown on organic land and sold in the organic marketplace is complex. The marketplace demands some assurance quantifying the presence of GE in seed and crops, and has responded by instituting testing at various levels of the supply chain. Non-GMO labeling such as the Non-GMO Project does not guarantee 100% GMO free products, but has a 0.9% tolerance level allowed in foods for human consumption and a 5% allowance of GMO contamination in livestock feeds whose final product would then be labeled as non-GMO. The Non-GMO Project currently has a tolerance of 0.25% for seed.”
The NOSB has issued discussion documents on the subject of GMO contamination of organic seed in each of the last five years. And, public comment has clearly shown this to be an important issue for organic farmers, processors, and consumers.
The initial focus of the Materials subcommittee’s proposal requires the sampling, testing, and documentation describing the level of purity from GE contamination of field corn seed, including the state/province/country of origin.
Since field corn is the mostly widely tested crop for GE contamination, the subcommittee suggests starting with this crop, and after a period of implementation, expand this to requirement to other at-risk crops.
“This proposal is intended to be a starting point, to learn how best to provide information to producers and track the contamination risk, while expending a limited amount of resources,” the proposal reads. “It is anticipated that in the future similar, species specific protocols would be instituted for additional types of seeds at risk of GE contamination.”
The Materials subcommittee said its proposal “is practical and would be feasible to implement within one or two years of the NOSB passage of a recommendation. There is sufficient existing testing infrastructure, the sampling protocols are clear and achievable, and the organic community could implement this rapidly since much of the procedures are already being done by organic seed suppliers.”