In its fifth and final meeting, the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) agreed upon compromise recommendations regarding demands from the organic community that they be compensated for losses incurred for the unintended presence of genetically engineered (GE) materials in their crops.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack revived the 23-member AC21 last year for the purpose of developing recommendations pertaining to the organic community’s demands. The group first met on Aug. 30-31, 2011, and has held subsequent meetings and numerous conference calls.

The major obstacle for the organic community in advancing its proposal was their inability to produce any data to confirm such economic losses. The primary recommendation involving the compensation mechanism states that if the Secretary collects sufficient data to prove economic loss to organic or other identity preserved crops from the unintended presence of GE material and determines that the situation warrants development of a compensation mechanism, he should utilize a mechanism based on a crop insurance model that includes incentives for the development of "joint coexistence plans" between neighboring farmers who use different production methods. The group further recommended that if the Secretary moves forward with a compensatory insurance plan, that plan should be tested through a pilot program established in a region(s) where relevant economic losses have occurred.

The AC21 also recommended that USDA implement a comprehensive education and outreach initiative to strengthen awareness of coexistence and the importance of coexistence for diverse agricultural production systems. USDA also should fund research on coexistence issues and should recommit to maintaining the original genetic identity present in its germplasm banks.

AC21 Chairman Russell Redding, dean of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Delaware Valley College, proposed a tentative timeline where, after a final opportunity for member comments, a final report will be released by Oct. 23. AC21 members will then signify their agreement or opposition by Nov. 8. Redding would like to present the final document to Secretary Vilsack later in November though that will depend on the Secretary’s availability.