AgDM Special Feature newsletter article, April 2000

Frequently asked questions regarding the production of transgenic crops

The transgenic crop, also known as genetically modified organism (GMO), debate has created many new issues for production agriculture. Most are not unique to transgenic crops, they are just the beginning of differentiated markets based on a wide range of new traits.

The Iowa Grain Quality Initiative has assembled this question/answer checklist to help you with planting decisions. Look for more updates and information throughout the 2000 season.

Legal Questions

Neil Harlby Neil Harl, 515-294-6354,

My neighbor has told me informally that the intention is to plant non-GMO corn hybrids all the way along our onehalf mile boundary. At the moment, I am planning on planting GMO hybrids along at least half the boundary. Should I be concerned about pollen drift?

To date, there has not been a case of pollen drift involving GMO corn litigated to a court of record. However, situations that are comparable in some respects have been litigated, with the creator of the offensive condition held liable. That has been the outcome with cases based on-(1) nuisance claims involving smoke, fumes, odors, noise, and danger; (2) trespass claims where fumes from a leaking tank drifted across a road and killed a vegetable crop; (3) herbicide drift. It is not clear what theory will emerge and how successful it will be in pollen drift cases.

Our suggestion is to discuss the situation with the neighbor and try to work out a buffer arrangement.

Could I be liable if I sell GMO corn to the elevator knowing that the grain is headed for export to the European Union even though I made no specific representations about the crop?

An implied warranty of fitness is imposed on sellers who are considered to be merchants if the seller knows the purpose for which the crop is to be used and the buyer is relying on the seller's skill in judgment to provide suitable goods. The warranty or promise is that the commodity will be suitable for the purpose for which it is intended. Farmers in nearly half of the states are considered to be merchants with the trend in that direction.

Implied warranties of fitness can be disclaimed by conspicuous statements in writing.

My elevator has asked me to sign a form stating that the corn 1 am selling has not been genetically modified. Should I sign the form?

Low levels of genetically modified germplasm are not unusual in non-GMO loads of grain. The seed, even though represented to be non-GMO, may have contained low levels of GMO germplasm and contamination could have occurred in planting, harvesting, transporting, and storing the crop. It is generally unwise to state that a crop has not been genetically modified unless you are confident you can back up such a statement.

I manage a small country elevator with one set of facilities (drop pit, augers) but with three sizable storage structures. This fall, I plan to sample each load and test the samples within a few hours of purchase. Is this adequate protection?

The problem is that, unless the test can be completed before the load is dumped, you may discover that grain dumped in a non-GMO structure actually contained unacceptably high levels of genetic modification. Thus, you may have contaminated a bin of non-GMO grain.

Where testing is not possible before grain is unloaded, you may wish to consider using the Uniform Certification Procedure discussed at

My elevator assures me that there will be no problem in accepting approved varieties of every GMO crop this fall at harvest. Should I be concerned?

The question is whether competitive opportunities for sale without a discount will be available when the crop is sold, presumably some time during the marketing year. If possible, it would be well to obtain a commitment in writing that the crop will be purchased without discount any time during the marketing year.


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