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Can GMO Food Be Organic?

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GMO Food: Genetically-modified organisms. This refers to the act of scientifically modifying the genetic structure of an organism. The resultant organism will have specifically defined characteristics. This is frequently done with seeds for crops. In the U.S., most of our soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola are genetically modified. Recently, the U.S. allowed GMO alfalfa to be planted without restriction. The genetically modified seeds can be patented. After all, the research to make them costs money. The argument for seed patents is that the investor must receive a return, or there will be no more investment money for research.


Until recently, I assumed GMO food could not be called “organic.” The U.S. and Canada both prohibit 100% certified organic food from containing GMO ingredients. However, contamination of the crops may cause organic feed to contain some percentage of GMO ingredients. At the Straus Family Creamery in California, for example, Farmer Straus spent nearly $10,000 tracing back the ingredients in his organic supplies, to remove the GMO traces. Basically, the problem is that GMO crops spew pollen into the air, as all crops do. This pollen cross-breeds with organic feed, which pollutes and corrupts the organic farms.

It is a normal practice for organic farmers to save their seed for the next year. With GMO crops growing nearby, however, the organic crops become infected with the GMO seed. When the farmer saves his seed, he is then infringing on Monsanto Corporation’s patent. Monsanto issued policies about patent infringement and their methods of enforcing patent law on these seeds. In these policies, Monsanto takes the position that their patented seed is desirable, and therefore the farmers who normally save their own seed are taking something away from the company.

Organic farmers point out that they are no longer organic when their seed is contaminated by genetically-engineered cross-pollination. They are the victim, not the perpetrator. The Monsanto Corporation protests that it has sued only 145 farmers for patent violation. Meanwhile, the Organic Consumers Organization has organized a Millions Against Monsanto campaign to pressure Congress to force foods to be labeled as GMO. This would allow consumers to decide whether they will risk their health with GMO foods. The FDA does not determine whether or not GMO is safe. It only determines whether evidence has been provided to declare it unsafe. No evidence, no reason not to eat it.

Of course, whether GMO food is safe will not be determined until after people have eaten it for 20 or more years. By that time, non-GMO seeds may no longer be available on the planet, as the wind and the birds cross-pollinate our fields. Although dramatic increases in the incidence of allergies and immune system diseases have occurred over the last 20 years, science have not been able to identify why this has happened.

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About Alice Elliott Brown

  • Kate Ryan

    Sugar beets and wheat are also GMO. Why do so many people today have intolerance to wheat?

  • J.C. Pike

    When one goes to apply to become an Organic Farm. A survey is usually required to be done of who & what is being done on adjacent properties to where to Organic Farm is being planned. If GMO growing is being done to close to the proposed Organic operation the Dept. of Agriculture will not allow the proposed to start the Organic Certification process until there is a substantial wind break between to the two properties or the G.M.O. seed species is diferrent from the Organic seed species i.e. GMO cotton versus Organic Tomatoes.

  • So the burden is placed on the potential organic farmer? What if someone decides to grow GMO after the organic farm is certified? Do they even need to ask permission?

  • You can find almost all the info you would need about GMO’s (and links to what isn’t there) at The Non-GMO Project.

    The Non-GMO Project is working to increase awareness and to educate the public, retailers, and manufacturers on GMO’s. You can find a non-GMO shopping guide to help you pick products, info on what you can do help, and a list of retailers in your state that support the project!

  • Duke Liberatore

    Why should we be manipulated into eating genetically modifeid food against our wishes? Why should farmers be forced to repurchase seeds every year? Why should food be controlled by patent owning corporations? Why should foods containing compounds never before exisiting on earth even exist? It is all about control of the food supply and the enormous profits that will follow. The costs are the health of the human race and our enviroment.

    • Abraham Collins

      Your consumption of GM products is voluntary. Find concerned individuals such as yourself and pool your resources to found a food analysis and approval institute. Only buy products that that institute certifies as non GM and, viola, the free market system has served you well.

      If you are an advocate of banning GM products you are an advocate of higher prices. People can’t afford food as it is and here you are willingly throwing a monkey wrench into a well established system of food production. Shameful.

      • zaralyn

        Did you read ANYTHING about cross pollination? That is interference of free markets!

        • Abraham Collins

          Not a single case of illness as a result of GMO consumption. Build a greenhouse and plant heirloom crops in it if you’re this hysterical and paranoid.

          • zaralyn

            Apparently you’re the one that’s paranoid that your food prices are going to go up. If our government didn’t give handouts to large corporations to begin with, we wouldn’t be in this predicament. I believe in free unregulated markets, because without them a lot of smaller scale farms are struggling and big business is getting a free pass. Look at the raw milk situation. Health risks and outbreaks have come at the hands of big business trying to mass produce, not because raw milk in its correct form is bad for you. And the government, whether you believe it or not, is fully aware that lifting restrictions on raw milk will hurt big business because the effed up system’s already been built to dupe the masses into believing that raw milk is bad, when in fact the fried milk being sold in stores is what is causing food allergies and what not. Now, in order to have a true free market society, the government would need to:
            -Shut down all regulatory agencies (even patenting and copyrighting)
            -Force businesses to give back any and all grant moneys, tax deductions, and properties handed to them by the government
            -Nullify any laws banning the sale of said goods for human consumption
            -Shut down any growing operations taking place on government land

            The second idea would bankrupt the corrupt corporations, who’ve gotten where they are today with the assistance of the federal government. Again, if the markets were truly free to begin with, we wouldn’t be in this situation.

            However, until that is done, the right thing to do is to require labeling.

          • zaralyn

            “Not a single case of illness as a result of GMO consumption”

            I’d like to ask your sources for that, because there hasn’t been an independent study done, but I don’t need your baseless statistic to know what’s right. My body has greatly improved since weaning off GMO’s, and think that millions of others can speak for themselves as well. Some say it hasn’t been long enough to tell. No, the majority of the medical field was never trained to look for such signs, but a few doctors who’ve been smart enough to figure it out for themselves have helped their patients’ health improve when telling to get them get off the GMO’s. I, nor anyone else who has their own bodies as proof, don’t need some government study to tell us that stuff is garbage, as in fact not even food.

  • S. Kian Chuan

    How can we tell if we are taking GMO food currently? There is no clear indication on this. To the consumer, we will need the help of the law or organization to set the rules.
    The standard should be the similar to having the Organic label after they are certified by the organization.

  • It appears that the GMO seed makers (Monsanto, DuPont, BASF, and Syngenta fight hard against labeling and our biotech-positive Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, agrees with them. Labeling would kill market potential.

  • Elizabeth

    Um, birds and wind pollinate our crops? Okay yeah wind is important but what crops are pollinated by birds?

    Also, I don’t quite understand why you wrote about allergies increasing in the last 20 years when you also wrote that GMO can be determined if safe or not after 20 years production and that in the time span of 20 years there may be no non GMO contaminated seeds.

    I certainly agree with your sentiments, but I am confused about the particulars.

    • Alicia Figueroa

      Sorry, just now reading this, but what she said is true in a roundabout way. Birds eat seeds, they fly around, and then they poop. They don’t digest the seeds fully, and the seeds often grow wherever they landed. (This is why sometimes you see small plants growing up by chimneys or in gutters even when there are no trees around.) After the plants grow, they then have a far better likelihood of being pollinated with whatever plant specie is growing next to them, regardless of whether it is organic or GMO.

      As far as her second statement, I think what she is trying to hit upon is the fact that it has taken 20 years for us to start demanding answers about why our health is deteriorating, and rather than reducing the production of GMO’s in the States, the Government has allowed it to increase over the years… thus accounting for the consistent rise in problems. If things continue to increase in this way, in another 20 years we could all be suffering serious health problems. Then it may be too difficult to hide the cause or blame it on other things, and the government will try to do something about the GMO’s. We will have won the war against Monsanto by demanding transparency of these companies and the health issues that are resulting from them – but we will have lost the war on our health and have very few (if any) strictly organic crops remaining. 20 years to start seeing problems, another 20 years til it’s so obvious that the government gives in and does something about their pocket pal Monsanto. That’s how her comment appeared to me.

  • wlmarvel

    Gmo seeds must be stopped. They are contaminating all other seeds soon there will not be any heirloom or organic seeds left. I think this is a bad idea. Bees ad butterflies have decreased to almost nothing. I saw 1 honey bee this season and 1 monarch butterfly. One company should not have this kind of power over our food system.

  • Iaroslav P.

    Thank you, Melissa Elkins,
    The link that you have posted contains a lot of interesting information!

  • Sylwia

    let’s elucidate this way.

  • Kack

    Dear Sylwia, senseaboutscience.org who produced that pamphlet about GMO is obviously an undercover organization of the Monsanto lobby.

  • Yes, GMOs can be (and are) in USDA Certified Organic food. Sign the petition to fight back, join the Facebook page, and read the documentation (or watch the TED-length Keynote YouTube presentation on a mobile device), at the following link. Heaven & Earth Blogspot.

  • sam

    May these people in Monsanto burn in fire and tortured to death, that is what these people deserve. this is worst that terrorism.

  • The solution would be to separate farming of GMOs and organic products. This way, there is no chance for pollens to crossbreed with the organic ones. GMOs could never be organic because they have been altered or exploited.

    • Rob Knaggs

      Jacob, unless you live near an old growth forest and gather your food from it, I very much doubt there is anything you eat that hasn’t been altered from its naturally evolved state.

      The methodology behind GMOs may be different, but there’s abolutely no scientific reason why genetically modified wheat should be any more dangerous than, say, a banana.

    • Al Prazolam

      The pollen from GMO spews forth like any plant into the organic fields, making them GMO by mistake.

  • Megan Hantz

    G.M.O. becomes a real problem and definitely is NOT organic when food genetically engineered to have the pesticides built right into the DNA, like corn. Or, by altering the DNA by splicing certain animal DNA into vegetables and mixing it all up, our bodies might not know what to do with it, you know, if your extremely allergic to peanuts (for example–whatever you might be allergic to) and Monsanto just makes up their minds to splice the genes right into your all time favorite veggie or something. Our bodies are natural machines and need to process food that is as much as natural, organic, and REAL as possible!

  • Betty

    Over 50 years ago it started with MSG in our foods and today there are over 12,000 different additives added to our food. And now comes GMO foods. We have become one of the unhealthest nations in the world. Although I would like to give the fault to companies like Monsanto, I believe the blame is with the FDA and the EPA. I have an allergic reaction to many additives which results in seizures. MSG alone is in 90% of all the foods we eat. It is labeled in the ingredient list as yeast extract, whey protein, carrageen, and NATURAL FLAVOR along with about 70 other names, to numerous to mention. GMO foods is now another problem people like me will have in trying to eat a diet and not get sick. When will all this stop. The dairy Ind. is now trying to get a bill passed to add Aspartame to dairy products. Think about that one. In the history of the FDA, it was Aspartame that received the most complaints from people getting sick from this product. There are no long term studies on the effects of GMO foods. Shouldn’t we have a choice whether we want to include it in our diet. It should be labeled.

  • Shadamae

    Google “gut flora” and what GMO foods can do to it. Might make you think twice about what you eat.

  • Sarah

    Wait…. what? You’ve gotta be kidding me here. The only reason “organic” is even a catagory of food is because what use to be an apple is now an engineered radio active frankenfood that is completely produced for purposes of greed. To even suggest that GMOs and organic foods could coexist is ridiculous! GMO’S WILL NEVER BE GOOD FOR YOU REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU CALL THEM! OR how you FURTHER engineer them. #growyourown

    • Calamity Jane


  • Kari

    People need to realize that GMO’s /are/ technically organic. Legally, genetic modification is within the bounds of organic farming. The organic part comes after germination. Almost everything you eat has been genetically modified, whether it has been selected for with crossbreeding back in the 1800’s or done in a lab today. Stop freaking out just because tabloids are freaking out. Selecting for certain traits in our food has been happening since the dawn of agriculture.

    • Bronwyn

      While I agree with your initial assertion that genetic modification is LEGALLY within the bounds of organic farming, your support for this is seriously flawed. Monsanto’s version of genetic modification and biotechnology is not the same as Grandpa saving the best seeds from his crop for the following year. Secondly, while I’m not sure how much the “tabloids” are freaking out about GMOs, there are thousands of scientists, doctors and governments that are. Some odd 55 countries have taken steps to curtail the use of or out-right ban GMOs. Maybe their governments and citizens read too many tabloids?

      • Bill

        Actually, just SAVING the seeds is doing the same thing, just the modification Monsanto does is more direct and gets results

    • Dan

      Please educate yourself a bit. Hybridization should NEVER be compared to GMO, because the former has undergone the natural MATING PROCESS, while the latter has genes from somewhere (say, a spider) artificially inserted into the organism’s DNA. GMOs are truly a Frankenfood, and should be assumed unsafe until (somehow) proven safe. IMO, successful mating implies a high level of compatibility, and thus safety. GMOs are also inherently sterile so the farmer must get new seeds (from Monsanto) each year.

      • It doesn’t follow that hybridisation products are automatically safe or that GMOs aren’t.

        Genes can and do move across species spontaneously in nature, so nothing is as black and white as you seem to make out.

        I agree that being forced to buy new seeds from Monsanto each year is hard business.

        This Wikipedia article is a good starting point for further reading. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism

  • thefermiparadox

    lots pseudosciene crack pots in the comments section.

  • GMO hater

    Farmers who find there organic fruits infected with the GMO DNA should sue for damages and contamination of the fields.

    • Chris

      Exactly. Putting the health implications aside it seems ludicrous that Monsanto would accuse the farmers of theft assuming that their GMO products are desired by these farmers. It’s simply not true.

      Since the controversy over potential health implications is still an ongoing one, I don’t think avoiding consumption of GMO products is an anal behavior. More than anything it’s a reasonable response for anyone with a sound mind to consciously avoid what is still unknown and may possibly be bad for you.

  • Solid Snake

    The property rights of the organic farmer (the right not to have his land fouled by a trespassers pollutants) is treated as a regulatory issue. It should not be. It is trespass.

    Intellectual Property on the other hand is in conflict with real property and should not exist at all.

  • james

    Fk fda fir messing up america

  • Mercedes

    If you use GMO seeds, it should be your responsibility to keep them from spreading…and be fined heavily if they do get loose somehow. That way Monsanto et.al. can recoup their “seed saving” expenses. And if the seeds should venture outside their territory, ” to the victor go the spoils” if someone decides to keep them.

  • bliffle

    Most of the useful hybridization of seeds and improvement of farm methods was done by the State Universities and their Farm Extensions. So, the rewards should go to finance the Universities. The Monsantos just came along and cashed in on the investments made by US citizens in the 20th century, mostly. When I worked midwest farms in the 50s and 60s there were many farm agents from universities in evidence, but no commercial seed growers. It’s just an example of latecomers trying to collect all the winnings.