Mixing GMO, other crops, is a concern

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 1, 2003

It takes diligence to make sure that genetically modified crops are separated from conventional ones. Terry Kvenvold, a farmer from Albert Lea, said he worries that the farmers who don’t take it seriously will close off foreign markets that refuse genetically modified organism (GMO) crops.

He said contaminating a ship load isn’t difficult.

&uot;There are farmers that think that what they do has no effect on the big picture. But all it would take is a few bushels in a non-GMO shipload going to Japan&uot; to disqualify the shipment, he said.

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With the harvest coming in, there is concern that genetically modified grain could contaminate loads of grain meant to go to countries and buyers who don’t accept GMOs. In some cases,

amounts as low as half-percent can cause a shipload to be turned away, and some people like Kvenvold are concerned that buyers will get leery of buying U.S. grain in the future.

Ward Nefstead, associate professor of applied economics at the University of Minnesota, said much of the problem comes from the fact that grain elevators were originally constructed to combine most grains. Up until organic and GMO grains became popular, most grains were mixed at the elevator.

He said with the problem being so new, there is a lack of standards. Grain elevators aren’t required to test grain, and with cross-pollination of fields, he said there is a further potential for contamination.

He said that if GMO crops pollinate with regular soybean crops, to the point where all soybean shipments contain strains, countries like Japan could look elsewhere for grain.

Brian Jacobs, regional manager for North Country Co-op, said there is a lot of gray area surrounding what is an acceptable procedure. He said much of the responsibility for what farmers give the Co-op’s elevators is up to the farmers, since his grain elevator doesn’t test grain for contamination.

He said what was most important is for farmers to keep records of what they grow and where, to make sure they clean their combine and containers to ensure they don’t mix grain, and to know which elevators accept what. He said his organization tries to educate farmers.

Paul Strandburg of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture said that for corn, the issue isn’t huge, since most corn produced in Minnesota stays in the state.

(Contact Tim Sturrock at tim.sturrock @albertleatribune.com or 379-3438.)