Secretary Vilsack Holds "Mint Julep" Summit to Discuss Biotech and Organic Coexistence | Civil Eats

Secretary Vilsack Holds “Mint Julep” Summit to Discuss Biotech and Organic Coexistence

Yesterday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack held a secret meeting between organic and conventional farmers who plant genetically modified seeds, which is being dubbed the “mint julep” summit by Washington insiders because of the USDA’s choice to offer the beverage in support of a new check-off program for mint farmers.

On the agenda was a plan to hash out what coexistence between the two forms of agriculture might look like, in light of the many lawsuits currently being brought by organic farmers whose seed stock and crops are under threat from contamination.

“We are considering a plan to transfer to organic farmers the entire state of Rhode Island, as well as create organic-only zones on islands like Vashon Island in Washington State and Martha’s Vineyard,” said Vilsack, taking a sip from his virgin julep. “That way we can really keep the two types of agriculture separate, with organic agriculture on the coasts where the people who eat that food live, anyway.”

Currently the USDA puts the onus on the organic farmer to protect themselves via “buffer zones” on their land, even though pollen from genetically modified crops has proven to spread tens of miles by wind, and haphazardly through poor storage and transport. When that happens, the patent holder for the genetically modified seeds can sue the farmer, even though that farmer had no knowledge of seed being planted on their land.

A recent webinar by Cornell University Cooperative Extension discussed other ways organic farmers must avoid contamination, including: talking to the neighbors about what they are growing, testing seeds, cleaning all equipment thoroughly, setting aside the first part of a harvest as non-organic, planting later than neighbors so that pollination doesn’t occur at the same time, taking out insurance policies, sampling the crop regularly, planting a windbreak to prevent cross-pollination, documenting and photographing the efforts undertaken to prevent contamination, and more.

“I’m not sure how the two can be kept entirely separate,” said one farmer who grows organic alfalfa for a local dairy in Washington and was worried about the recent USDA decision to allow genetically modified alfalfa. “I’m more than fifteen miles from any potential GM growers, but my crop could still be contaminated. And I don’t want to move to Vashon Island, Mr. Secretary.”

This was the second mention of the idea of coexistence between the two types of agriculture by Mr. Vilsack. The first time he made the suggestion Vilsack was steamrolled by the White House, which was seeking to be more business friendly after the 2010 elections.

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“I just won’t let this idea go,” said Vilsack. “I hate to see my two agricultural sons fighting.”

[editor’s note: You’ve been punked dear readers. April Fool’s!]

h/t to Stephanie Ogburn at HCN for this reporting. For more info on co-existence, see our reporting here.


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Paula Crossfield is a founder and the Editor-at-large of Civil Eats. She is also a co-founder of the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Her reporting has been featured in The Nation, Gastronomica, Index Magazine, The New York Times and more, and she has been a contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio. An avid cook and gardener, she currently lives in Oakland. Read more >

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  1. annie
    i was all about "give me a break!! my two sons??"

    haha.. well, i almost posted it on fb. the best one of the day....
  2. Ruthmarie
    Holy cats! my head was on fire by the bottom line ... whut? mint farmers? .. what do they mean by shove all the organic farmers to the coast since that's where organic consumers live?? MY "two sons"?! Thank goodness for "punked" line at the bottom! Whew, the only April Fool I near fell for ... kudos to Paula for the slow build of incredulity. Although if this was near believable, it doesn't speak well of the frustrating events that crank through the broken US food system. Now I need a mint julep to cool down, lol!
  3. C.Lewis
    Ha! very nice, almost got me...however that doesn't change the fact that I said "are you f***ing kidding me?!" while reading on my laptop in the coffee shop,lol
  4. maria
    the worst april fools joke was the one my hubby sent me that monsnto was owning up to all its past sins and was paying the famrers they had wronged and were going into organics...of course at this point I get suspicious...all the same , it was very sad....

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