The end of organic crops?

What you sow isn't always what you reap

Feature story - April 6, 2006
"This year I will again sow maize. But if it is again contaminated [with genetically engineered maize] I will abandon the growing of organic maize. It is obvious that I cannot carry on my shoulders the episodes of contamination like these, year after year."

This chilling statement came from Enric Navarro, an organic maize [corn] grower from Girona in Spain whose farm has been dedicated to organic maize cultivation for the last four years. This year his crop was contaminated by genetically engineered [GE] maize.  He doesn't know where it came from.  It could have been from any non-organic field, quite literally, anywhere on the wind.

When GE crops are allowed to "coexist" in the open with organic crops, what you sow isn't always what you reap.

Enric chose to burn nearly two-thirds of his organic maize crop after testing revealed up to 12.6 percent of it was contaminated with GE, rather than sell his crop at a premium through the organic market.

He followed his conscience. He suffered a massive economic loss.

And he isn't alone. Other organic farmers have burned their crops rather than allow them to further contaminate the Spanish maize market.

Enric Navarro

"I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I got into the conventional market with contaminated maize. Even though I know that there are thousands of hectares of GE maize and that our food chain is flooded with it, I felt I could at least intervene in stopping my own production. This act was done to publicly denounce the situation we are currently living with here in Cataluña with GE." Said Enric.

The choice facing his home region is clear to Enric: "If Cataluña abandons GE, I will continue to make organic maize. If not the organic maize will disappear. That simple. That sad."

More stories like Enric's are highlighted in a new report, ' Impossible Coexistence,' which was recently released by Greenpeace and two Spanish NGOs, Assemblea Pagesa and civil society group 'Plataforma Trangènics Fora!'. The report documents Spain's reckless adoption of genetically engineered maize and the subsequent disasters that have befallen many of the conventional and organic farmers in two of the main GE growing regions Aragón and Cataluña.

A conference on so-called coexistence is underway in Vienna where EU delegates will decide on the future of GE cultivation.

Economic losses like Enric's are a grim reminder of why countries should close the door to genetic pollution, especially as consumers do not want it and markets are closed to this unsafe technology.

Enric had this advice to the politicians: "To solve the GE problem and its social, environmental and health implications, the only option is to not cultivate a type of crop that the citizens do not want."

We agree.

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