The USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) recently submitted to Secretary Vilsack their final recommendations on coexistence among organic, biotech and conventional farming operations. The organic community was demanding an indemnity fund supported by the technology providers to compensate for economic losses incurred by pollen drift of biotech crops.
In March ’11, Secretary Vilsack revived the AC21 after it was idle for two years. The members represented the biotechnology industry, the organic food industry, farming communities, the seed industry, food manufacturers, state government, consumer/community development groups, the medical profession and academic researchers.
The major charge to the group was to examine “what types of compensation mechanisms, if any, would be appropriate to address economic losses to farmers caused by unintended presence of genetically engineered materials, as well as how such mechanisms might work.” The committee has met five times since mid ’11 and conducted multiple conference calls. The weakness of the organic community’s claim was the lack of credible data to support their claims of economic losses.
The final report, endorsed by 22 of the 23 members, concluded that a compensation fund was not warranted at this time, but went on to say that if in the future, the Secretary obtains convincing data substantiating economic loss that he may initiate a pilot program based on the model of current crop insurance programs. The report also endorsed increased outreach and education regarding the principles of coexistence.
The NCC and other agricultural organizations support the discussions’ outcome as a fair compromise of positions. Organic groups have come out against it claiming that an insurance program would put the economic burden solely on the organic grower.