Organic Consumers Association

Tell the USDA National Organic Program: Mutagenesis Doesn’t Belong in Organic!

In order for a product to meet the criteria for USDA organic certification, neither the product nor any of its ingredients can be genetically engineered, or genetically modified. Certified organic products and ingredients also can’t be irradiated.

So why is it that organic regulators allow the process of mutagenesis in organic—even though mutagenesis is a form of genetic modification that uses radiation?

Tell the USDA National Organic Program: Mutagenesis Doesn’t Belong in Organic!

What is mutagenesis?

Mutagenesis is a method of plant breeding that involves subjecting plants to radiation, or dousing them in chemicals, in a way that scrambles their genes in order to produce new traits. The goal is to produce plants suitable for modern industrial agriculture, where crops are grown in vast monocultures with the aid of chemicals and machinery.

Sound a lot like genetic engineering? It is.

Mutagenesis doesn’t involve transferring the genes of one species into another. But just like genetic engineering, mutagenesis is an imprecise and uncontrolled process. The intent may be to produce a specific, desired trait. But there is no way to predict or control the unintended consequences.

Despite those similarities, genetic engineering is regulated (albeit poorly). Mutagenesis isn’t.

Monsanto and Dow, who compete with companies that produce plants using mutagenesis, think the lack of regulation isn’t “fair.” The U.S. National Academies of Science (NAS) says it isn’t “scientifically justified,” as mutagenesis has the potential to be just as dangerous as genetic engineering.

How did mutagenesis come to be allowed in organic?

The regulations governing organic are very clear when it comes to genetic engineering. They exclude “methods used to genetically modify organisms . . . by means that are not possible under natural conditions.”

That means no GMOs in organic. It should also mean no mutagenesis in organic. So why doesn’t it?

According to the regulations, genetic engineering doesn’t include the use of “traditional breeding.” Promoters of mutagenesis claim the process is just another form of traditional breeding, and thus should continue to be allowed in organic. Efforts to prove them wrong have so far gone nowhere. In 2013, the National Organic Program issued a memorandum interpreting the regulation's reference to "traditional breeding" to include mutagenesis.

If we want to get mutagenesis out of organic, we have to convince the NOP to change its mind—and call for a change in the regulations governing organics.

What are the risks associated with mutagenesis?

Like genetic engineering, mutagenesis can cause dramatic shifts in genetically determined traits, producing unknown toxins or allergens.  Wheat Belly author Dr. William Davis blames mutagenesis, which is used to produce modern wheat—including organically grown wheat—for increases in wheat allergies and intolerances.

Mutagenesis, like genetic engineering, also leads to increased use of pesticides—another health hazard, especially for children.

For example, BASF used mutagenesis to engineer an herbicide-resistant wheat variety. Clearfield wheat is grown on more than 1 million acres in the US. According to a Bloomberg news report: 

“BASF, the world’s biggest chemical company, is having success with its line of Clearfield crops. The German company made the crops tolerant of its Clearfield herbicide through chemical mutagenesis. It alters the crops’ DNA by dousing seeds with chemicals such as ethyl methanesulfonate and sodium azide, according to company filings in Canada, the only nation that regulates such crops.”

Bloomberg reported that BASF enlists the help of 40 seed companies, including DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. in the U.S., to sell Clearfield crops in markets that reject GMOs. Clearfield wheat, rice, lentils, sunflowers and canola are planted from Russia to Argentina and the U.S. without regulatory review, according to Bloomberg.

“Without regulatory review” is bad enough. But to allow the use of mutagenesis, a process that involves “dousing seeds with chemicals,” in organic is a serious breach of consumer trust in the USDA organic certification program.

How can you avoid food grown from mutant seeds?

How do you know if your organic food comes from mutant seeds? You don’t. If you buy local, you can ask your local farmer.

Alternatively, you can avoid rice, wheat, barley, pears, cotton, peppermint, sunflowers and grapefruit. These are the only mutant crops that you could potentially find in the organic section.

More info

More on mutagenesis

National Organic Program Regulations

National Organic Program memorandum on mutagenesis

1-25 of 11911 signatures
Number Date Name Location Comments (optional)
11911 5 hours ago Matthieu Cameron Alexandria, ON
11910 8 hours ago Barbara Barry kihei, WA Absolutely NO Mutagenesis allowed in organic standards.! Keep this OUT of our ORGANICALLY GROWN AND PRODUCED FOODS.
11909 11 hours ago Marlene Murrill Stayton, OR
11908 18 hours ago Anonymous HI
11907 19 hours ago Ellie Kirchner Puyallup, WA
11906 1 day ago e gilmartin OR
11905 1 day ago lisa ables-johnson rockport, TX Could we keep at least SOME of our food safe?
11904 1 day ago Anonymous Riverside, IL
11903 1 day ago Lynn Metelits Sherrick Van Nuys, CA
11902 1 day ago Marlene Murrill Stayton, OR What the heck are you doing with our food supply? No chemicals! No radiation! No genetic mutations!! Leave our food alone the way it's intended to be!
11901 1 day ago Philip Fortini Pelham, NH
11900 1 day ago Terry Herckenrath Phoenix, AZ
11899 1 day ago Karen Schaedel Lafayette , LA
11898 1 day ago Olga Troyan Taraz, KZ+17
11897 1 day ago Mitsuko Hayakawa Pearl City, HI
11896 1 day ago A Noriega San Juan, PR
11895 1 day ago lenik Novak Dorval, QC
11894 1 day ago Marina Lemberg Hampstead, QC
11893 1 day ago Anonymous Sacramento, CA
11892 1 day ago Lucia You Kailua, HI
11891 1 day ago Duane Likens CO
11890 1 day ago Gloria Lewis Waterloo, NY
11889 1 day ago jessica tsyrul long beach, CA
11888 2 days ago Lori Nakamura-Higa Kaneohe, HI
11887 2 days ago Joyce Glasgow Seattle, WA
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