While GM crop use has expanded exponentially across the globe over the past two decades, nowhere has this growth been more significant than in the United States. While just one percent of corn and seven percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. came from GM seeds during the mid-1990s, by last year both of those numbers had risen to above 90 percent.
In the new study, nearly half of the farmers polled said they did not believe that GM and non-GM crops could ever “coexist”, while more than two-thirds said that “good stewardship” is insufficient to address contamination.
“The USDA’s focus on coexistence and crop insurance is misplaced,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said Monday, referring to an AC21 recommendation that GM contamination problems be dealt with through a federal insurance scheme set up to lessen the impact of natural disasters.
“The department must recognise the harm that is already being done to organic and non-GMO farmers and put the responsibility squarely where it belongs – with the biotech companies … Now USDA can no longer claim ignorance about this problem.”
Even as contamination reports continue to grow, the U.S. government’s most recent response, drawn from the AC21 recommendations, has been to encourage “good stewardship” practices and communication between neighbouring farmers. Yet non-GM farmers say that, in practice, this has meant substantial outlays of both time and money in order to safeguard their crops – and virtually no corresponding responsibility on the part of farmers using genetically modified crops.
Beyond regular testing and certification requirements, U.S. farmers are required to set aside a substantial buffer zone around their fields to guard against GM contamination. Averaging around five acres, this buffer zone alone costs farmers anywhere from 2,500 to 20,000 dollars a year in lost income, according to the new survey.
Other farmers resort to waiting to plant their crops until after their neighbours’ GM crops have pollinated. Yet this delay, too, imposes a financial burden of several thousand dollars per year.
“I’m getting tired of maintaining these miles of buffers,” one farmer wrote in response to the new survey, complaining about the heavy use of herbicides typically associated with GM crops. “How about the guy that sprays up to the fence be liable for the damage that is done?”