Why Biotech Companies Don’t Want Us to Know Where Their GMO Fields Are

An ambitious proposal will help prevent contamination between organic and nonorganic crops, but Big Ag says it’s unnecessary.
(Photo: Stanislaw Pytel/Getty Images)
Jun 14, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

In an incredible win last month, organic famers in southern Oregon defeated the big guys when local voters banned genetically engineered crops. Despite the $1 million campaign waged by the region’s largest agribusiness groups, a two-thirds majority approved the ban. Now the Beaver State is planning yet another giant move: mapping GMO fields.

Gov. John Kitzhaber directed the state’s agriculture department to chart where genetically modified crops are grown. Organic plants often become contaminated by GMOs, making them unsellable in the export market. The mapping, also known as pinning, will set up buffer zones and establish prohibited areas for engineered crops to minimize cross-pollination. If the initiative moves forward, Oregon would be the first state to require preventative regulations for GMOs.

“Mapping would bring transparency to a system that’s extremely opaque,” George Kimbrell, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, told The Associated Press. “It would allow for causation and traceability.”

Due to market competition, biotech companies such as Monsanto don’t publicly disclose their field locations. They maintain that growers already coexist throughout the nation and that more surveillance is unnecessary. But more than a few farmers, including Oregon organic grower Chris Hardy, disagree. He told the AP that Swiss agri giant Syngenta recently refused to participate in a seed association’s effort to create a mapping system because “it does not fit with their business model.”

Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart said, “It is our firm belief that for a seed association to be successful, the members must have a shared goal of coexistence. Unfortunately...we did not believe that goal was shared by all prospective members.”

Oregon is already creating a digital map of farming communities, which could be used to develop the proposed mapping system. New GMO legislation could be introduced in next year’s session, said Gov. Kitzhaber.