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Organic Farmers Association oppposes genetic engineering in letter to Secretary

Letter of opposition delivered to Secretary of Agriculture signed by 79 organisations.

20 September 2019, at 12:33pm

Organic Farmers Association (OFA) delivered a letter of opposition to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue, in response to a statement made by Department Under Secretary Greg Ibach concerning opening a dialogue about gene-editing in organic agriculture.

The letter, signed by 79 organic farm organisations from across the nation, strongly opposed any form of genetic engineering into the organic standard and expressed opposition to dialogue about its possible inclusion. OFA urged the Department to build the organic market by instead focusing on building healthy soil and addressing the core issues affecting the domestic organic market today.

“Introducing any dialogue about any form of genetic engineering into organics would be a major distraction for the USDA NOP and the National Organic Standards Board,” said Kate Mendenhall, Director of Organic Farmers Association. “We have crucial issues in organic agriculture that need the Department’s full attention, such as stopping organic import fraud, closing certification loopholes, enforcing our current organic standards equitably and uniformly, and updating obsolete database technology.”

During a House Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee meeting on July 17, 2019, Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Greg Ibach expressed interest in opening the discussion surrounding gene editing technologies and their possible uses in advancing organic agriculture. “We’ve seen new technology, including gene editing, that accomplishes things in shorter periods of times than a natural breeding process can,” said Under Secretary Ibach in that meeting. “I think there is an opportunity to open the discussion to consider whether it is appropriate for some of these new technologies that include gene editing to be eligible to be used to enhance organic production.”

Gene editing and all other forms of genetic engineering are currently prohibited under the guidelines of organic certification. When the USDA was first writing the national organic standards in 2001, they tried to allow genetic engineering; the organic community responded with over 400,000 comments demanding its prohibition.

Since then, consumer acceptance of genetically engineered products has dropped precipitously, while certified organic food sales have seen consistent growth. Organic Farmers Association feels strongly that working with natural materials and cropping systems that prioritise biodiversity improves soil health, crop success, and consumer interest.

Organic Farmers Association and the seventy-eight additional organic farm organisations are united in their refusal to revisit the conversation of genetic engineering and strongly opposes any attempt by the Department or its leadership to reintroduce the topic within the organic guidelines.

OFA encourages Secretary Perdue to abandon the idea of possibilities for genetic engineering in organic agriculture and commit to a national organic label that strives for continual improvement and strong organic integrity.