Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) aren’t allowed in organics because they fall into the “excluded methods” category—meaning things that are excluded from organics. But there’s one exception to the “no GMOs in organics rule”—GMO vaccines for livestock.
Under current law, GMO vaccines are allowed in organic, but only after they’ve been reviewed and approved by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), and with the recommendation that they be approved only in cases where non-GMO alternatives don’t exist.
Unfortunately, the Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) hasn't been enforcing the law. The agency admits that GMO vaccines are used in organic, even though none have been approved. In fact, not a single GMO vaccine has even been submitted to the NOSB for review.
When the NOSB meets at the end of this month (October 28 - 30, 2014), the board is expected to vote on a proposal requesting the NOP to provide guidance on the use of GMO vaccines.
“Guidance” isn’t enough.
Ever since the Richard Matthews admitted, during a May 2009 NOSB meeting, that since the beginning of the program, all vaccines had been routinely allowed in organic, without a review as to whether or not they were genetically engineered, controversy has swirled around GMO vaccines in organic.
The controversy was fueled by Matthews’ suggestion that instead of the NOP enforcing the law requiring review and approval of vaccines, on a case-by-case basis, the NOSB should just recommend a change in the law. That’s what the NOSB did. Fortunately, the NOP rejected that recommendation.
So, what next?
According to the NOSB Livestock Subcommittee:
In September 2010 the NOP asked the NOSB to formally review GMO vaccines in accordance with the criteria in Section 205.600. The NOSB requested a Technical Report which would address the evaluation criteria as specified in the Act (7 U.S.C 6517 and 6518). In November 2011 the Technical Report, “Vaccines made from Genetically Modified Organisms”, was received by the NOP. This document provided some critical information to the NOSB. The NOSB conducted a review of Vaccines made with excluded methods using the Checklist and criteria as specified at 205.600. The NOSB prepared a Proposal dated April 3, 2012, for public comment and possible vote at the Public Meeting in May 2012.
Let’s recap. Early in 2009, the NOSB admitted that GMO vaccines were being used in organic livestock, even though none had been reviewed and approved, as required by law.
Later that same year, the NOSB recommended that all vaccines be allowed, with the caveat “that vaccines made by non-excluded methods be used before those made by “excluded [GMO] methods.”
The NOP rejected that plan.
In 2010, the NOP asked the NOSB to formally review GMO vaccines, which led to the publication of a technical report in 2011, and a proposal that was supposed to be voted on in May 2012.
Now here we are, October 2014, no closer to clarity on what should be done about GMO livestock vaccines.
It’s time for the NOSB to assert its authority to review, regulate and when appropriate, prohibit genetically engineered vaccines. The NOSB should tell the NOP to enforce the law and get GMO vaccines, none of which have been reviewed or approved, out of organic!
And it’s time for the NOP to require that every vaccine used in organic be petitioned for review, so that the NOSB, with the help of a technical advisory panel, can determine which ones have been genetically engineered and, of those, which, if any, should be allowed in organic.
GMO vaccines are inherently unpredictable and possibly dangerous.
According to a review of the risks prepared by a technical advisory panel for the NOSB:
. . . the non-pathogenic (not able to cause disease) strain present in the vaccine may mutate or combine with other genes to become pathogenic (virulent; disease-causing) after administration. … With bacterial GMO vaccines (which are predominantly administered via the mouth), there are concerns that the engineered bacteria may recombine with natural bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. … [S]hed DNA [in the animal’s feces and other secretions] could potentially infect other animals and spread the virus or bacteria … [or] recombine with naturally occurring viruses, forming altered virus strains with unpredictable characteristics.
That doesn’t sound like something that belongs in organic.
Please sign our petition asking the NOSB to take meaningful action to get GMO vaccines out of organic. Please take the time to add your own comments.