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 11858 signatures
Number Date Name Location Comments (optional)
11858 3 days ago Anonymous Venice, CA
11857 5 days ago Alex McMoran Granbury, TX
11856 5 days ago Sue Ortiz Queens Village, NY
11855 6 days ago Alanah Purkapile Bellevue, NE
11853 6 days ago R GOLDSTEIN NEW YORK, NY
11852 6 days ago Pamela Haun Cooper City, FL
11851 6 days ago Anonymous Rockville, MD
11850 6 days ago David Chittenden San Francisco, CA
11849 1 week ago danielle bennett thornton, CO
11848 1 week ago Leanne Puglia MD
11847 1 week ago Anonymous OR
11846 1 week ago Anonymous St. Albert, ot
11845 2 weeks ago Julie Austin Los Angeles, CA
11844 2 weeks ago Catherine Jackson Surprise, AZ Registered voter very against mutagenesis.
11843 3 weeks ago Susam Muller Maumee, OH STOP mutagenesis! Let Mother Nature alone and allow foods to be grown without
chemical or radiation intervention!
11842 3 weeks ago Darla Wroblski lr, AR Mutagenesis is not natural and is not organic ~ Leave our natural and organic food alone!!! Stop trying to play God and respect Mother Nature and let her do what she does best and stop trying to com...
11841 3 weeks ago Simon Faulkner Largo, FL
11840 3 weeks ago Meghan Smith Bainbridge Island, WA
11839 3 weeks ago Nelcha Cross CA
11838 3 weeks ago roxie harrington holmen, WI
11837 3 weeks ago Nasreen Ali Jacksonville, FL
11836 3 weeks ago pam olin Boonville, CA
11835 3 weeks ago Meghan Smith Bainbridge Island, WA
11834 4 weeks ago Sonja Downing Renton, WA
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