Organic growers and food safety advocates, including the National Organic Coalition (NOC), have condemned recommendations contained in the final report of the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21), a group appointed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address transgenic contamination of organic and non-genetically engineered (GE) crops. GE crops make up the majority of corn and soybeans produced in the United States.

According to news sources, of particular concern in the report is the recommendation that organic and non-GE conventional farmers pay to self-insure themselves against unwanted GE contamination. In a press release NOC stated that “This proposal allows USDA and the agricultural biotechnology industry to abdicate responsibility for preventing GE contamination while making the victims of GE pollution pay for damages resulting from transgenic contamination.”

“The AC21 report takes responsibility for GE contamination prevention out of the hands of USDA and the biotech industry where it belongs and puts it squarely on the backs of organic and non-GE farmers,” said NOC member Andrew Kimball, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “This illconceived solution of penalizing the victim is fundamentally unjust and fails to address the root cause of the problem—transgenic contamination.”

In August 2011, USDA charged AC21 with identifying compensation mechanisms to address GE contamination. The underlying assumption of USDA’s work plan for the committee was that as long as farmers are adequately compensated, GE contamination is a permissible and acceptable cost of doing business for organic and non-GE farmers. NOC has rejected this assumption, as did several AC21 members.

According to NOC, an additional shortcoming of the report is the recommendation that GE and non-GE farmer neighbors develop “co-existence agreements” as a means of moderating relationships in light of inevitable contamination. “Floating the pie-in-the-sky idea of farmer co-existence agreements is an obvious diversion from the critical issues non-GE farmers routinely confront with respect to GE contamination,” said NOC member Ed Maltby, executive director of Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance. “We urgently need meaningful regulatory change that institutionalizes mandatory GE contamination prevention practices. USDA needs to stop dragging its heels, get serious and focus on making this happen.”