NCC producer director Don Cameron, who has a very diverse farming operation in Helm, Calif., addressed a two-day plenary session of USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21). Agriculture Secretary Vilsack revived this committee last year to advise the department on compensating organic growers who incur economic loss due to pollen flow from neighboring biotech crops.

Speaking as a member of a five-person panel, Cameron explained to the committee how he produces conventional, biotech and organic crops harmoniously on his farm.

Vilsack has charged the committee to answer three questions: 1) what types of compensation mechanisms, if any, would be appropriate to address the economic losses by farmers where their crops’ value is reduced by unintended presence of GE materials; 2) what would be necessary to implement those mechanisms (i.e. what testing procedures, tolerance levels, etc. would be needed to verify and measure a loss and determine if a claim was compensable or not); and 3) what other actions would be appropriate to bolster or facilitate coexistence among different agricultural production systems.

One of the four working groups that have been formed to deal with specific components of these questions has made three options for compensation — an indemnity fund, crop insurance and risk retention groups.

Committee members who are critical of the compensation idea have stated that there is not sufficient data to verify the level of economic harm that organic growers are claiming, that coexistence has existed for decades before biotech was commercial, e.g., among different types of corn and wheat, and that economic harm also occurs in the opposite direction as organic operations act as a source for insect and disease problems.

Compensation idea supporters claim that it would take too long to collect the requested data on economic harm incurred. They are insisting that the committee must move forward to provide Vilsack with a report.

More information about the AC21 is at: www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=AC21Main.xml&contentidonly=true.