Confronting coexistence in the United States: organic agriculture, genetic engineering, and the case of Roundup Ready® alfalfa
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In agriculture, the principle of coexistence refers to a condition where different primary production systems can exist in the vicinity of each other, and can be managed in such a way that they affect each other as little as possible. Coexistence policies aim to ensure that farmers are able to freely grow the crops they choose—be they genetically engineered (GE), non-GE conventional, or organic. In the United States (US), the issue of coexistence has very recently come into sharp relief with the introduction of Roundup Ready® (RR) alfalfa, a landmark court decision in 2007 (Geertson v. Johanns), and subsequent governmental actions, including the first Environmental Impact Statement on a GE crop. By contrast, in 2003 the European Union (EU) created a policy to manage coexistence and to address economic harms that may be caused by contamination. We briefly review the EU framework as an instructive resource. This policy analysis then looks at the US organic industry and its standards with respect to GE before turning to the case of RR alfalfa. With a focus on the field trial stage and on environmental assessments prior to market approval, the case reveals numerous problems in the existing regulatory framework as it pertains to coexistence and prevention of contamination of organic products with GE material. The paper concludes with specific policy recommendations for creating a more robust coexistence policy in the US.
KeywordsAgricultural biotechnology Coexistence Genetic engineering Organic agriculture Coordinated Framework for Biotechnology Roundup Ready® alfalfa
Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Center for Food Safety
European Food Safety Authority
Environmental impact statement
Finding of No Significant Impact
Genetically modified organism
National Environmental Policy Act
National Organic Program
National Research Council
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone
United States Department of Agriculture
We are sincerely grateful for the helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper made by the editor, three anonymous reviewers, and several colleagues.
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