What is in this article?:
- Coexistence between conventional and organic growers ought to be possible, but it will take both sides to make it work.
- Organic consumers and producers need to separate the physical from the cosmological. Quackery is quackery. Promulgating medieval nostrums about plant nutrition is constitutionally protected religious expression, but it is not science.
- The United States can remain in the top tier of countries in carrying out responsible and useful GM crop research, including research into the risks presented by this new technology; or we can abdicate our place, and let other nations and individuals do as they please.
Philip Bowles, Bowles Farming, Los Banos, Calif.: "The future of agriculture is not a return to the 17th century. New technology will be required to feed the billions coming, and this progress cannot be stopped. The cat is long out of the bag."
Is zero contamination of alfalfa hay or seed possible? “Zero” is a mathematical conceit not identifiable in nature. Absolute zero, a perfect vacuum; these are useful constructs for theoreticians, but abstractions just the same. Every day we make risk decisions based on perceived value versus perceived risk. Do I drive my child to the doctor, risking a car accident, or do I ignore the pin she just jammed in her eye? The same logic applies, or should apply, to pesticide residues, genetic purity of all seeds (not just GM), and most other regulatory standards. Erring on the side of safety over commerce, regulators and consumers need to stop making the perfect the enemy of the good. The only people who live risk-free are dead.
At the moment, there is a substantial portion of the alfalfa industry that is not farming organically, but which depends on being able to furnish non-GM forage for their customers. As long as this is the case, their interests must be protected. Producers have gotten along fine without GM alfalfa; so if push comes to shove, the legitimate commercial interests of the non-GM folks have to come ahead of those of us who plant the Roundup Ready varieties. In most locations it is not an either-or choice, but more a matter of figuring out, on a regional level, how to play nicely with one another. The seed companies need to cooperate as well, and agree not to furnish seed to areas where it is not presently wanted, like the Imperial Valley. But some might ask, what’s to prevent a renegade grower from buying seed elsewhere and planting it in a prohibited area? At least in California, because of our exemplary pesticide reporting and use regulations, this would be very difficult, and very illegal. Our renegade grower would have to conspire with a licensed PCA and licensed applicator to falsify a report, or fail to report altogether, the application of Roundup to his alfalfa crop. Perhaps he could do the application himself, without a written recommendation. But he would still be in violation of the law. Farm communities are small. Except during football season, the principal weekend amusement consists of driving around to see what the neighbors are doing wrong. A completely weed free alfalfa field, or one with standing dead monocot and dicot weeds, is pretty darned obvious. Our hypothetical renegade would not get away with his misdeeds for very long.