Keep Food Legal receives many inquiries about our stance on various issues, none more so than genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As a result, we have begun to create a series of policy stances that will eventually make up a handy FAQ (frequently asked questions) file. We will post these policy statements, which we've dubbed On the Issues, over the next several weeks. In the first such post, below, we present our stance on GMOs.
On the Issues: Genetically Modiifed Organisms (GMOs)
Those who favor and oppose GMO foods have respectively predicted both catastrophic consequences and breathtaking advances from the field. The predicted harms and potential benefits of GMOs have largely yet to be realized.
There are two core issues pertaining to GMOs. The first deals with GMOs as a food, and the second with GMOs as an agricultural/aquacultural entity. Regarding the first issue, Keep Food Legal neither advocates in favor of nor against eating GMO foods. This is consistent with Keep Food Legal’s general policy against advocating either in favor of or against any particular food choices. We believe the USDA and other federal agencies should adopt a like-minded approach and end their more than $1 billion in subsidies for GMO research. This is consistent with Keep Food Legal’s general opposition to all agricultural subsidies.
The second issue, which arises when organic (and conventional) farmers and farmers who grow GMO crops come into conflict, is more complicated. Keep Food Legal supports the basic agricultural rights of both organic farmers and farmers who grow GMO crops. When GMO pollen spreads to organic crops, Keep Food Legal believes the issue is one best handled by courts as an issue of property law (under principles of nuisance or trespass).
Keep Food Legal is sympathetic in this context to the claims of organic farmers whose crops have been pollinated with GMO pollen. Keep Food Legal is unsympathetic to potential claims by GMO seed makers against other farmers (organic or conventional) whose crops have been pollinated by GMO matter. Why? Consider a case where a pet bird escapes from the property of Person A and impregnates a pet bird on the property of Person B, which decreases the value of Person B’s pet bird. While a claim by Person A against Person B in this case would be a frivolous one, a court may find that Person B has a rightful claim against Person A.
On a global scale, if GMO crops have great potential it is that they could theoretically help lead to a sustainable farming revolution that greatly benefits the environment and that also saves lives in much the same way as did the Green Revolution. For example, a GMO pest-resistant crop (one that doesn't require topical pesticides but that instead contains pest-repelling genes), or another that needs less water to grow, could solve myriad hunger and environmental problems. Hypothetically, if implanting a gene from a fruit fly into a cassava plant could help end hunger in parts of Africa while causing little or no harm to humans or the environment, then it would be inhuman to ban farmers from planting that crop.