In a standing-room-only lecture hall not far from the nation’s capital, The Honorable Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, told a 120-plus crowd earlier this week that the farming discussion in the U.S. shouldn’t be about organic versus non-organic farms, but rather about saving rural America, and saving farming in general. As he noted that there is not a single group that is satisfied with the way agriculture programs are currently run in this country, he dismissed the idea of farmers bringing their neighbors to court over drift from Genetically Modified crops saying, “There ought to be a conversation between all parties, neighbors and seed companies.”
For certain, no one in the room wanted to pit farmer against farmer, but what attendees of the policy conference wanted to know was: Who is going to take responsibility when organic crops are destroyed by Genetically Modified crops? If drift from a GMO crop lands on a neighboring farm, who pays? As the “M” word loomed large in the room, Vilsack dodged with a politician-esque story of a farmer whose son (the only son of 7 who wanted to take over the family farm) had committed suicide because he had extended operations, and when the economic crash of the 90s hit, they stood to lose everything. This story is tragic indeed, but to the organic farmers present, who could share similar stories, it felt like a cheap escape.
The closest thing I heard to figuring out who pays, was from an aide to Colorado Congressman Jared Polis, who intoned that litigation will likely be the only way to deal with these cases in the future. One interesting suggestion that came about during meetings between Colorado farmers, business owners and Colorado representatives, was for Colorado to set its own GMO labeling system or bans, just like California has been successful in developing its own initiatives on hemp and the environment.
The conference took place amidst the environment of a potential government shutdown. As OTA members took to the hill they crossed the path of thousands of Tea Party members lobbying to shut the government down. And as they took to the halls to meet with designated congress members, they were reminded over and over again that what they were asking for in 2011, will be 2012, if not 2013 initiatives. Aside from requesting money for existing programs, such as the National Organic Program (and maintaining the integrity of the USDA label), the group was lobbying to maintain key programs such as Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), and the Organic Data Initiative (ODI) both of which offer valuable research and data for farmers but are currently on the chopping block.
To hear more about the issues go to the OTA's website, check up on the issues and then write or phone your congress person. Or better yet, the next time you’re in Washington, D.C., show up on his or her doorstep!