Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why Organic Dairy Products Could Disappear

I have an organic farm. I have dairy goats on the farm whose milk I turn into cheese. It is getting harder and harder to purchase organic food for my goats. I grow my own grass hay but I purchase organic grains and alfalfa from other sources.  It is assumed all corn/soy feed that is conventional is now genetically engineered (GE). Even the organic corn and soy on the market is suspect of contamination since it is not tested for GE contamination. So I do not purchase the normal organic feeds that have corn and soy in them. However, most of the dairies are still buying it. Why is no one making sure only non-genetically modified food is fed to the organic dairies. Seems it is not being monitored. When I talk to the people who sell these foods they always tell me they can not guarantee the feed they sell is free of genetically modified corn or soy as they do not test. There are tests easily available to them but I am guessing they are not testing as they prefer to not know what they are selling people. I have had to purchase organic oats and barley for my animals rather that the preferred corn mixes that I use to buy. Additionally, now that there is unrestricted growth of genetically modified alfalfa, I have to be concerned about contamination of my organic alfalfa. If people like myself who have organic dairy animals can no longer purchase organic food for our animals, this would be an end to organic dairy farms and the organic dairy industry. No more organic milk, cheese, butter, yogurt or kefir.

How Can We Be Sure the Organic Animal Food We Purchase is GMO Free (What About Human Food Too?)

It turns out we can't. Being certified organic does not mean it is free of GM ingredients. This is because it is not tested for genetically modified DNA. I discussed this issue with TILTH as I thought they should be monitoring any organic crops in Oregon that could be potentially contaminated with genetically engineered dna by testing the farmers fields from time to time. It is not all that expensive for them to do if they use the "strip tests". PCR testing is more expensive, although also more sensitive. An example is testing for "Round Up Ready" corn, alfalfa and soy. They can purchase 100 test strips to test for "Round Up Ready" DNA for $340 dollars. This means they can test a field of corn, soy or alfalfa for contamination by the "Round Up Ready" genes at the cost of $3.40 per test. These tests will show "Round Up Ready" DNA if it is 5% or more. (By the way, you can purchase these tests also from Romer Labs.) When I asked TILTH why they are not testing, they told me the public has not asked them to test. They said if the public decides it is important, they will begin testing. So email and call TILTH and tell them you want them to start testing all organic crops with a GE counterpart for possible GMO contamination. Tell them you want them to do as good a job as the Non-GMO Project. This would include all organic corn, soy, sugar beets, canola and cotton seed oil. These should all be tested now.  

Tilth Offices: 

main officemidwestportland office
260 SW Madison Ave, Ste 106
Corvallis, OR  97333

Phone: 503-378-0690
Toll-free: 1-877-378-0690
Fax: 541-753-4924
Phone: 1-877-378-06901725 SE Tenino
Portland, OR 97202

Phone: 503-378-0690
Toll-free: 1-877-378-0690
Fax: 541-753-4924

Because Tilth has let us down by not testing for GMOs, there is a private certifying body called The Non-GMO Project. It does test and they use PCR testing which can detect very low levels of genetically modified material. Their seal on a food product ensures you that testing of the suspect ingredients has been undertaken. You can get more information on them and see what their symbol looks like by visiting their website. Look for their symbol on all processed food products. You want to see this symbol on even the organic foods that contain one of the foods that may be contaminated by GMO drift. These include any product with corn, soy, sugar beets, canola and cotton seed oil.

Organic farmers whose field is known to have been contaminated by GE seed or pollen can still sell their product as organic that year.
Organic farmers are not allowed to purchase or plant genetically engineered seed. However, if their crops are contaminated by a neighbor who is growing genetically engineered food or they are sold GE (genetically engineered) seed they thought was organic, the farmer can still sell their crop as organic (even if they find out it has been contaminated before going to market) as long as they can prove they did not knowingly plant genetically engineered seed. 

Organic and Conventional Farmers have no recourse if their organic food is contaminated by GE fields.
Not only do they have no recourse when their field is contaminated by their neighbors pollen, some of them have been sued by Monsanto for illegally planting GMO seed (They thought it was organic since it came from their organic plants that they did not know was contaminated.) and Monsanto has won! So far farmers who have had their conventional or organic crops contaminated by GE plants have not been able to even win court cases in the United States. Therefore, they are being protected by certifying bodies such as TILTh by at least allowing them to sell their contaminated food as organic. Otherwise they would go out of business and we could loose our organic growers. However, this does not protect the consumer. Something needs to be changed here. The farmer needs to be able to have laws that support organic farming and protect organic farmers from trespass of GE pollen on their crops. What do we do about the poor organic farmer or conventional farmer who's field gets contaminated by GMO pollen? The farm that contaminates their field should pay for trespass on their land. However, this is hard to prove. So, my solution is that the companies who grow and sell GMOs should create a fund that will compensate these farmers. The solution that the GMO farmers have put fourth is that the tax payer should pay for their trespass. We are already paying for them to grow GMO vegetables. Why not have tax payers also pay for the damage done by these growers when they grow GMOs? At least this is how they view it. (If this is the first you realized your taxes pay for GMOs to be grown, yes get mad about it. This is part of the farm bill. If you don't like it, tell your representative to make sure next years farm bill does not include payment for any GMO crops!)

Why is Alfalfa Important? Why should we be concerned about GMO? Alfalfa (harvested as hay) is used as high-protein feed for all of our dairy animals  and it is also used to build up nutrients in the soil, making it particularly important for organic farming. Additionally alfalfa in the form of pellets is sold for food to horses, rabbits and even gets included in cat and dog food. GE alfalfa could ruin export markets for both organic and conventional alfalfa products and threaten the future organic food and farming in the North America.

25% of the alfalfa seed grown in the United States , is being grown in Oregon near Milton Freewater by a company called Forage Genetics. Both the genetically modified alfalfa and the organic alfalfa are being grown in this same area. This concerns me. So, I checked around and found that the only way to assure yourself that your organic alfalfa seed is not being grown next to someone who is growing genetically modified seed is to get seed grown from Canada. So far they are not growing it there although this may change very soon. This is one Canadian Alfalfa seed company I have spoken with that supplies organic alfalfa seed and they are fighting GMO alfalfa in Canada. Their name is Interlake Forage Seeds. There is also an interesting company that has created corn (through natural selection) that is resistant to DNA contamination. Read more about it here.

I will be posting a blog about two GMO alfalfa bills that will make it illegal to grow GMO alfalfa in Oregon. When this blog comes out in the first of February make sure you read it and tell your representative you want them to support both of these bills. One will ban it forever and they other will ban it for 6 years. We want the one banning it forever to pass but have offered the  6 year ban as a compromise if necessary.

I just saw another article about issues in providing organic milk in the United States you should read called Running Out of Milk. Here is the link.