Report - GM crops threaten organic farming in Vermont (28/1/2005)

Report: GE crops threaten organic farming industry
Associated Press, January 28, 2005
By Lisa Rathke

MONTPELIER — Contamination from genetically engineered crops threatens Vermont's growing organic farming industry, advocates said Thursday.

The number of certified organic acres has more than doubled in the past five years, from 15,967 in 1999 to 35,826 in 2004, according to a report released Thursday by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. The number of organic farmers has more than tripled from 90 in 1994 to 332 in 2004, the report said.

Organic dairy farms also have jumped from 38 to 87 between 1999 and 2004, the report said.

But the growing use of genetically modified organisms threatens to contaminate organically certified crops with their pollen, potentially increasing costs for organic growers, the report said.

"Over the past 10 years a remarkable consumer demand for organic food has propelled a very vibrant and rapidly expanding organic sector of Vermont's farm economy," said Ben Davis of VPIRG.

"But there's a problem. And that is for Vermont farmers to cash in on that demand they are going to need to be protected and GMOs undermine that ability for them to cash in," he said.

The amount of GE seeds sold in Vermont rose from 416,698 pounds in 2003 to 506,372 in 2004, the Agriculture Agency reported this month.

GMO contamination of organic corn in Vermont has already been documented, Davis said.

The Senate Agriculture Committee this week passed a bill that would make seed makers liable for damages from genetically engineered seeds or crops.

"I do have great interest in discussing the Farmer Protection Act, the liability bill," said Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

"My goal as chair of the committee is to make sure that all these topics get more adequately addressed, or get fair hearings, get open information from all of those involved, from organic producers, seed producers and lawyers to understand really what are these consequences because we're really going into uncharted territory with genetically engineered seeds in our food system."

VPIRG would like the state to go further and ban the use of GMOs to give lawmakers time to fully consider their economic, ecological, and human health impacts, Davis said.

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