Non-GMO Farms Fear Contamination

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NORBORNE - The United States Department of Agriculture is looking for public input on how to improve the co-existence between two types of farming; GMO and non-GMO.

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. In the 70's, various companies started experimenting with natural seeds (non-GMO) by altering their genetic make-up. The goal was to create a crop that was immune to a glyphosate spray, which kills weeds and insects. The most active ingredient in this spray is sodium chloride, better known as table salt.

The rapid success of GMO farming was due to a variety of reasons. Todd Gibson is a GMO farmer in Norborne Missouri that grows GMO soybeans. He made the transition to GMO seeds after observing his neighbors success with them for a few years.

"If you look at a non-GMO farm there's weeds everywhere and it's messy. GMO farms are perfectly maintained with a lot less labor. That's where I think we actually help the environment. My carbon imprint is a lot less than if I used non-GMO seeds," said Gibson.

Gibson spends noticeably less time running his tractors since switching to G-M-O farming. Because of this, he's burning less fuel and creating a smaller carbon footprint than before.

More than 80% of all soybeans, cotton, and corn grown in the United States are GMOs. The majority of these crops are shipped to other countries or fed to livestock.

"If we didn't use GMO, there would be a lot less food production, and that affects everyone," said Gibson.

But not everyone sees GMOs as a harmless and helpful advancement. The rising health trend in the U.S has led to a number of states passing laws that GMO and non-GMO foods must be labeled.

The store manager of Natural Grocers, Jessica Henroid, wants those labels for consumers in Missouri.

"All I want is to educate people. They have a right to know what's in their food. I don't see the harm in labeling everything and letting the market decide for itself," said Henroid.

She said there's a lot of shoppers asking her about non-GMO products and organic products. Contrary to popular belief, there is a difference between non-GMO and organic farming.

According to the USDA, to be a certified organic farmer your crops must be grown without pesticides and use limited variety of fertilizers. Non-GMO farmers are allowed to use any pesticides and fertilizers they want but must use unaltered seeds.

The struggle between non-GMO farmers and GMO farmers rests in the spray and seed itself. If the GMO farmer accidently sprays the non-GMO seed, the non-GMO crops will die because they're not immune.

The most difficult issue to solve is the spread of seeds themselves. For example, if a bee pollinates on the flower of a GMO soybean plant and then flies over to a non-GMO crop and pollinates, the non-GMO crop is contaminated.

Non-GMO crops are tested before the farmer is paid for his product. If the GMO seed is present in the test, the non-GMO farmer cannot sell to the non-GMO market. They also cannot sell to the GMO market because they are not a certified GMO seed.

Besides cross-pollination, GMO seeds can spread simply by the wind. The USDA recommends non-GMO farmers create large buffer zones to prevent contamination. The problem is that means non-GMO farmers must give up portions of their field to safely grow their crops. Obviously, this means less production for the farms.

The USDA also requires an expensive certification process to be an organic farmer. If the food is labeled as organic, it's automatically non-GMO and pesticide/fertilizer free. Many people, like Henroid, don't think it's fair to ask non-GMO farmers to give up portions of their land for buffer zones and complete the expensive certification process.

Gibson disagrees with that.

"Organic and non-GMO farmers can sell their crop at a premium. So I think if they get more money for their crops, they should take on the cost of protecting them. We farmers don't work for any seed company, it's completely our choice what we want to grow and if that's what you decide on then you have to pay for it," said Gibson.

The USDA is reviewing public comments after March 4 before discussing how they will improve the co-existence between these two types of farming.