Organic crops and open-source GMO

Mischa Popoff of Osoyoos plans to grow an organic crop using genetically modified organisms. The organic label is not easily obtained but as a former organic farm inspector, he knows what’s involved. He spent five years certifying farms organic for some of Canada’s biggest agencies.


“I started in the organic industry in Saskatchewan,” Popoff told “We converted our grain farm to organic in 1993 and I was totally opposed to GMOs. I thought they were evil incarnate. But over a five-year career as an organic inspector I learned not only are they not harmful, they reduce the impact of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.”

Popoff may be determined but so are environmentalists.  They passionately believe that growing GMO crops is a corruption of the very essence of organic which suggests that food is not only pure and virtuous but good for the environment. It’s heresy to suggest the opposite.

Another heretic is Cathleen Enright executive at Biotechnology Industry Organization. She told Frederick Kaufman at that since 1996, transgenic crops have “reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced pesticide runoffs, and reduced farm-fuel use. Because of biotech, there is more carbon sequestration in the soil.”

Popoff is nervous about revealing the location of his crops because of death threats. “The crop is already in the ground but it will be two years before it’s certified organic,” he says. “I can’t tell you where it is because anti-GMO activists will vandalize the field. I’ve had death threats.”

Popoff is leading a group that say they will grow the world’s first certified organic GMO crop and he’ll use open-source GMO. A relatively new idea, open-source GMO is the agricultural equivalent of Linux, the open-source operating system that made computer programming a communal effort.

Monsanto is the Microsoft of food supply. Both corporations have tried to monopolize and monetize technology. Monsanto is evil, not because of technology, but because it has tried to create a monocultural future, with all its inherent problems, with no regard to agroecolgy.

While ranting at Monsanto may feel satisfying, the effect is like screaming at a deaf giant. The way to undermine Monsanto is to acquire the proprietary rights to food molecules. That can be done through licensing agreements that allow free use of genomes.

Cambia Technologies, an Australian biotech company that researches and develops GMOs, offered a licensing agreement for the free use of a technology called “transbacter.” Transbacter can be deployed to alter plant genetics. Its aim is not one specific modification for one specific corporate interest but to enable a slew of innovations.

There’s no shortage of potential application of open-source GMOs that would help billions on Earth: innovations in crops like cassava, millet, or teff. They’re small fish for Big GMOs “They are not interested in low-insecticide eggplants that would help clean urban water supplies in South Asia. There’s not enough money in it for them,” says Kaufman.

The challenge is to move the rhetoric beyond “Monsanto is evil” to a tactic that speaks the language of Big GMOs. “Of course, the party-line foodie dare not say anything positive about GMOs, at risk of being labeled a stooge of the foodopolists,” laments Kaufman.


1 Comment

  1. Is the TransBacter technology still alive at all? Cambia is not selling it anymore. They say “you may take it from anybody willing to give it to you” but there are hardly any scientific papers employing this technology and it is certainly not clear where you could get the system.

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