(How can) we all just get along?
—USDA seeks comments on agricultural coexistence
The phrase is usually, “Can’t we all just get along?” But the USDA has decided that, yes, we can get along, where “we” involves differing types of agricultural production. Now the issue is how, and USDA wants help.
In a recent Federal Register, USDA announced it is seeking input from farmers and other stakeholders regarding “agricultural coexistence.” It defines this watchword as the “concurrent cultivation of conventional, organic, identitypreserved, and genetically engineered (GE) crops consistent with underlying consumer preferences and farmer choices.”
As consumer demands have shifted, new biotechnologies have emerged, and the ability to evaluate the composition of products has improved, the need for coexistence between farmers of differing production systems and goals is increased.
After pointing out much of the current conversation on agricultural coexistence focuses on biotechnology, the 2012 report “Enhancing Coexistence”—the recommendations of which prompted the USDA comment seeking—explained that it is not a new concept.
“The principles of coexistence and the need to manage risk and preserve the integrity of crops apply to all agricultural production, and are particularly important in any identitypreserved (IP) cropping system. Examples of successful coexistence in IP production include the cultivation of specialty crop varieties, such as sweet corn and popcorn, and practices within seed production.”
Some long-standing examples of agricultural coexistence in practice can be seen in the EU, where the precautionary principle and consumer concern over GE crops is very strong. U.K. and Irish governmental recommendations to farmers include creating buffer areas between organic versus other types of crops, as well as neighbors working together to choose cultivars and planting times that will prevent undesired cross pollination.
The USDA requests farmers and other stakeholders comment on existing or potential educational and outreach efforts to further coexistence.
“As we seek to improve cooperation among those involved in diverse agricultural systems, we are interested in hearing what practices and activities are available or in use, and how USDA can help make coexistence work for everyone involved,” said USDA in a blog post on the topic.
“The Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture recommended that USDA support agricultural coexistence by strengthening education and outreach on this vital issue,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in an earlier announcement.
“In response, with this notice, we are asking all those with a vested interest in coexistence to help us learn more about what coexistence means to them, how they are already contributing to it, and what more is needed to achieve coexistence. With this input, we can continue the dialogue begun by the AC21 group and find practical solutions that will help all sectors of American agriculture be successful.”
Comments can be submitted online at regulations.gov then searching for “APHIS-2013-0047” or by mail at Docket No. APHIS-2013-0047, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238.
The deadline for comment submission is Jan. 3, 2014. Remember that all comments will be made public. Once the comment period closes, USDA will carefully review all information and feedback, and plan a future workshop to explore possible next steps. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor