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Agricultural Coexistence: We All Can Get Along

March 6, 2015
On March 12-13, 2015, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be holding a Stakeholder Workshop on Coexistence to advance the understanding of agricultural coexistence. Coexistence is not a safety issue. Agricultural Coexistence is the practice of concurrent cultivation of conventional, organic, identity preserved (IP), and genetically engineered (GE) crops consistent with underlying consumer preferences and farmer choices.

The Workshop will discuss opportunities for making coexistence more achievable and a basic consideration for all stakeholders. It is also meant to provide a forum for stakeholders to discuss current and potential USDA responses to the recommendations offered in November 2012 by USDA’s Advisory Committee of Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21).

The USDA noted in its announcement that this will be an opportunity for it to learn from stakeholders representing a wide range of interests with respect to agricultural coexistence and to build upon the Agency’s leadership and outreach efforts to promote coexistence.

BIO will engage in and watch these meetings to understand and provide feedback on any recommendations that may come out of this workshop. Coexistence measures implemented by farmers have historically worked for years and we expect they will continue to do so successfully in the future.

During the November 2012 AC21 Meeting, the USDA’s Advisory Committee issued a report on coexistence that 1) acknowledged a long history of successful coexistence in agriculture; 2) made progress in identifying ways to enhance coexistence; and 3) recommended that the USDA collect more data about whether farmers are incurring economic harm due to the unintended presence of GMOs. During the year-long proceedings, the Committee repeatedly requested but never received data showing farmers losing crop values due to a breakdown in coexistence.

In fact, over the last decade, studies have shown* that coexistence between conventional, organic and GMO crops is achievable and is occurring without economic and commercial problems, and without a need for government involvement.

When farmers sign contracts with those who plan to buy their goods after harvest, they have a responsibility to meet their contractual obligations. So, when different crop production systems exist in close proximity, farmers talk to one another to ensure one farming operation doesn't interfere with another and that both operations can “coexist.” This communication allows farmers to remain true to contractual obligations and get along with their neighbors.

Farmers in all forms of agriculture should have the freedom to choose the production method best suited for their needs whether it be conventional, biotech or organic practices. The upcoming workshop and USDA’s reestablishment of the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) will provide additional opportunity for dialogue on this issue to further foster coexistence among the farmer and grower community.

*Brookes, G. Coexistence of GM and Non-GM Crops. Current Experience and Key Principles (PG Economics Ltd., Dorchester, UK; 2004).