Genetically modified (GM) food has never been something that particularly worries me. They certainly have problems – pesticide use, mingling with wild plants – but industrial agriculture has these problems anyway. The large companies that make them take advantage of farmers in icky ways, like making the crops sterile so farmers have to buy new seeds every year, but that sort of behavior has a legislative fix. If industrial growers, say in California’s Imperial Valley, were using GMOs that saved water and didn’t need pesticides, I’d think it was a great idea (assuming proper environmental testing).
However, I also believe that people have a right to avoid GMOs if they wish. So it was troubling that a recent study in Spain found that GMO agriculture drives out organic agriculture. The study showed that a small amount of genetically modified pollen fertilized nearby organic plants, making them also “genetically modified.” There’s not a lot of mixing – 6% seems to be the high estimate – but that’s enough to put organic consumers off their feed. Since the organic produce was not GMO-free, it was unsellable in Europe. This drove organic farmers out of the organic business, and they started planting GMO crops.
The European Commission’s GMO policy is based on “coexistance” – assuming that GMOs and organic produce can be grown side-by-side. This is clearly not the case, if cross-contamination is an issue for organic consumers. So if genetically modified foods have a place in modern agriculture – and I think they do, particularly because of climate change – that place is far away from organic agriculture.