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Former USDA Official Warns Farmers Against GE Contamination

Former USDA Official Warns Farmers Against GE Contamination

The Former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture at the USDA is warning farmers to get involved with government policies that affect their industry, including fighting against the growing threat from GE contamination.

Katherine Merrigan served as deputy secretary at the USDA between 2009 and 2013, and made her warning as part of a keynote address to the annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference. [1]

Merrigan gave ten reasons why farmers should be engaged in government policy, including protecting their interests, their way of life and their democracy.

In what is a wake-up call for farmers in the US and overseas, she warned that it was increasingly difficult to preserve and segregate GE and non-GE seeds and said that coexistence is unachievable due to pollen drift, co-mingling and contamination. Unless farmers become involved in Governmental policies that affect their industries they will not be able to protect their GM-free production.

The warning on GM contamination comes just as Australian farmer Steve Marsh has had his first week in the Western Australian Supreme Court. [2] Steve Marsh is an organic farmer who found GM canola plants spread over much of his farm. With 70% of the farm being contaminated he lost his organic certification. The dispute followed the decision in 2010 by the state government of Western Australia to allow commercial cultivation of GM canola. As a result many farmers, including Marsh’s next-door neighbour, began growing GM canola.

New Zealand farmers face parallel threats from a number of quarters.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement could force member countries to grow GE crops and prohibit labelling of GE foods as a result of lobbying by US companies like Monsanto. Refusal to allow GE crops could even see the New Zealand government forced to pay compensation to the biotech industry through a disputes tribunal. [3]

Closer to home there is lobbying to force acceptance of low-level GE contamination on all farmers from the vice-president of Federated Farmers, Dr. William Rolleston. He has been a spokesman for the 'Life Science' industry and is opposed to maintaining food purity and GM- free production, arguing that coexistence of GE and conventional farming must allow for widespread ‘low-level’contamination. [4]

By contrast the government in Tasmania has adopted a GM- free policy to build its exports of clean safe food, and there are good reasons for New Zealand to follow that lead. [5]

“This is a warning for New Zealand farmers to protect their interests in the growing market for GE-free products around the world,” said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-Free NZ.

“It is an endorsement to defend the integrity of the New Zealand supply chain, just as forward thinking Councils in New Zealand are doing by adopting the precautionary approach toward genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their plans.” [6]

“This precaution is supported by USDA experts who now admit that GM-free production will be made impossible and that co-existence is just a myth. We have a global advantage in New Zealand’s GE-free status which we must protect.”


[1] Dysfunctional DC matters: 10 reasons to stay engaged in Federal Agricultural Policy http://www.oeffa.org/conference2014.php[2] Steve Marsh Supreme Court Trial Daily Blog – February 2014 http://safefoodfoundation.org/steve-marsh-trial-daily-blog/

[3] The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement -Understanding the TPPA and what it means for New Zealand. http://www.cid.org.nz/assets/Resources/Fact-Sheets/Fact-Sheet-13-TPPA.pdf

[4] Morning Rural News, 14 February 2014 RADIO NZ http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player/2585682 (2.36)




[6] http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1402/S00107/local-regulation-of-outdoor-use-of-gmos-on-the-rise-in-nz.htm


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