Organic growers say that, without safeguards, their foods will be contaminated by genetically modified crops growing nearby. The genetic-engineering industry argues that its way of farming is safe and should not be restricted in order to protect organic competitors.
Into that conflict comes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who for two years has been promising something revolutionary: finding a way for organic farms to coexist alongside the modified plants.
But in recent weeks, the administration has announced a trio of decisions that have clouded the future of organics and boosted the position of genetically engineered crops. Vilsack approved genetically modified alfalfa and a modified corn to be made into ethanol, and he gave limited approval to genetically engineered sugar beets.
The announcements were applauded by genetic-engineering industry executives, who describe their modified organisms as the farming of the future. But organics supporters were furious, saying their hopes that the Obama administration would protect their interests were dashed.
"It was boom, boom boom," said Walter Robb, co-chief executive of Whole Foods Markets, a major player in organics. "These were deeply disappointing. They were such one-sided decisions."
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