Organic farmers protest state GMO policy

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(Host) Farmers opposed to the use of genetically engineered crops took their complaints to the Agency of Agriculture on Thursday. They worry that their products could be cross-pollinated or contaminated by the genetically modified varieties. They want Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr to impose a moratorium, but Kerr says that’s not allowed under the law.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Outside the redstone agriculture building in Montpelier, a small crowd gathered to protest the state’s policy on gene-altered crops.

Some varieties of corn and other plants are genetically engineered to fight pests or resist herbicides. But organic farmers worry that the pollen from these varieties will contaminate their fields, and make it impossible to sell their product as organic. Gene Palthey has farmed organically in Tunbridge for 12 years.

(Palthey) “I would like the rights to grow non-contaminated food and my customers also demand that of me. We all know that genetic engineering drifts and contaminates and my crops are threatened.”

(Dillon) Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr has held a series of meetings this summer and fall to develop a policy that covers the use of gene altered crops in Vermont. Kerr’s goal is to allow farmers to use all the tools they need – including genetic engineering. He says organic farmers and those who favor the new technology can and must co-exist.

But opponents say co-existence is impossible. Lisa McCrory, of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont, wants the state to impose a moratorium for now on the use of gene-altered crops. According to McCrory, 20% of the agriculture land in Vermont is in organic production. She says it’s a growing industry that’s threatened by genetically modified crops.

(McCrory) “Once that contamination has happened, they can’t product an organic crop for three years on that piece of land, or three years of being GMO free. So the impact is dramatic.

(Dillon) McCrory is not convinced that the state can develop guidelines that protect organic growers – or other conventional farmers who chose not to use the genetic engineering technology. But Agriculture Secretary Kerr says the state has to try.

(Kerr) “I don’t think that we can work from the premise that co-existence is not possible. I think co-existence is possible. Unless, one side or the other – and there are two sides, and I think there are extremists on both sides – unless one side or the other says we aren’t willing to compromise.”

(Dillon) Kerr says federal courts won’t allow him to impose a moratorium. He says the voluntary guidelines that the state is working on include recommendations for buffer zones to separate the gene-altered crops and other varieties.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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