The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report on genetically engineered crop use in the United States, in which it cited consumer concern over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and acknowledged the existence of certain risks to the environment. In a separate survey, many farmers claimed they’ve detected GMO contamination in their non-GMO crops.

USDA’s report reveals that in 2013, GMO crops were planted on about 169 million acres in the United States, or about half of all acreage. Part of the report discussed herbicide-tolerant (HT) GMO crops, like HT corn and cotton. They are designed to tolerate heightened application of herbicides like glyphosphate, which is considered less toxic and persistent than other herbicides.

But the report warns that recently developed resistance to glyphosphate among weed populations may be leading farmers to increase glyphosphate usage, offsetting any supposed economic or environmental advantages to HT crop use. It also noted that HT crops resistant to more toxic herbicides like dicamba are on the way.

“Despite the rapid increase in adoption rates for GE corn, soybean and cotton varieties by U.S. farmers, some continue to raise questions regarding the potential benefits and risks of GE crops,” the report reads. It notes the opposition to GMOs is at a high level in Europe. “In other countries, including the United States, expression of consumer concern is less widespread,” it says.

Food & Water Watch, in a partnership with the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, released a survey of non-GMO and organic farmers across 17 states, primarily in the Midwest. It found more than 30% of farmers either discovered or suspected the presence of unintended GMOs in their crops, and over half of those have had shipments rejected over GMO contamination. This survey comes as USDA closes a comment period on a plan for managing the co-existence of non-GMO and GMO crops in U.S. agriculture. One proposal in this plan-making process required non-GMO and organic farmers to pay an insurance premium to protect themselves against the costs of GMO contamination.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2014