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Why Regulate GMO Crops?

You may have heard about the USDA’s decision to deregulate GMO alfalfa early this year. If you did, then hopefully you heard that this is quite detrimental to the organic industry and world food prices, which happens to be an industry that Modern Species cares very much about. One of our client’s, Organic Valley, has teamed up with the Center for Food Safety to raise funds to fight the USDA’s decision and get that regulation back. If you know and care about this controversy, consider donating, and if you would like to know about the debate and how it affects you keep reading and I’ll do my best to explain.

What is GMO? GMO is an acronym for Genetically Modified Organisms. They're pretty controversial all over the world. Some say they will solve world hunger, others say they create a corporate monopoly on crops that will bankrupt the world. The benefits are that science can create strains of seeds that are resistant to many pests and highly responsive to certain fertilizers.

The downside is that pests constantly adapt and work their way around these GMO crops, the crops are genetically modified by injecting the seeds with viruses, and many of the GMO seeds are 'terminator' crops which means that the are genetically programmed to have sterile seeds that can never grow another plant. Here's a nice little write-up by an MIT student if you're interested in learning more.

How is a crop 'regulated' by the USDA? To give a simple explanation, the USDA regulations kept GMO seeds and plants from contaminating and mixing with natural seeds and plants. Companies that work in the farming production business would get certified by the USDA to prove that they were keeping natural organisms separate from mutated organisms, which gave organic farmers the assurance that they could buy truly organic seeds and plants from that business. 

This works a lot like the Forestry Stewardship Council's regulation of wood and paper to reduce global deforestation. The whole chain of production and custody (lumber companies, paper mills, printers, etc) must become FSC certified for you to buy true FSC-certified paper. This regulation costs a lot, but by certifying each link in the chain, the cost is spread out and made more affordable, which is why you can buy FSC paper at a reasonable price and know that you're not contributing to clear-cutting.

So how does deregulation of alfalfa and other plants affect me? The most likely effect is that it will increase the prices of organic and GMO-free food. When the cost of regulation is not spread across each link in the chain of production, it increases the cost for other links. Without national regulation standards there is no guarantee that a farmer is getting virus-free alfalfa seeds. So the farmers must take it upon themselves to monitor and test their alfalfa to make sure it is GMO free. This testing will increase the farmers expenses and that increased cost must be passed on in the form of higher prices for organic dairy and beef. And at a time when world food prices are expected to double in 20 years, higher costs are a good reason to be concerned.

Jennifer Stewart is the Office Manager and wanna-be organizational psychologist at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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Every profession bears the responsibility to understand the circumstances that enable its existence.- Robert Gutman