Coexistence among farmers with different types of crops -biotech, non-biotech conventional and organic - is an issue in the United States and other countries today. Farmers can work together to manage the spread of pollen and prevent problems with unintended presence of genetic material in neighboring crops, experts said during a recent panel discussion at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) International Convention in Boston.
“Biotech crops can peacefully coexist alongside conventional agriculture and organic farming,” said Gregory Conko, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington. “As long as farmers are responsible, cooperate with each other and work together, they can make sure that there’s place for organic agriculture and biotechnology, and everyone can have the food products that they particularly want,” he added.
“Coexistence is an economic issue and not about safety,” added Daniel Pearsall of SCIMAC - Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops in the United Kingdom. “It applies where there is a differential market demand between conventional product and organic.” In many cases, crops raised according to organic methods or regulations command a higher price than conventional crops, which in many cases are biotech.
A California farmer with multiple crops on the same property said he has been very successful in raising biotech, non-biotech conventional, and organic crops by paying attention to the biology of each crop and avoiding pollen flow from one to another. Alfalfa is cut before it blooms, Don Cameron of TerraNova Farms in Fresno County said, so “there is little chance of pollen exchange.”
Crops such as corn, in which pollen can be spread by wind, can be controlled by a physical separation of about 200 yards, he said.
“It very important to cooperate and communicate with neighboring farms,” he said. Equipment used to harvest and transport products should also be managed carefully to avoid pollen spread, he added.