"I’VE HAD DEATH THREATS."
KELOWNA – An Osoyoos man is leading the fight for more genetically modified food by growing the world's first organic GMO crop.
Mischa Popoff is a former organic farm inspector. He spent five years certifying farms organic for some of the biggest agencies - Quality Assurance International, Farm Verified Organic, Organic Crop Improvement Association and the Canadian Organic Certification Co-op all used his services to decide if a crop could call itself organic.
“I started in the organic industry in Saskatchewan,” Popoff says. “We converted our grain farm to organic in 1993 and I was totally opposed to GMOs. I thought they were evil incarnate. But over a five-year career as an organic inspector I learned not only are they not harmful, they reduce the impact of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.”
Now Popoff is leading a group that says they will grow the world’s first certified organic GMO crop.
“All of the resistance to GMOs is coming from the organic industry which is really shameful,” he says. “A lot of farmers are pro-GMO but they have to keep their mouth's shut. We want to show that we can be organic and pro-GMO.”
He plans to take an open source GMO crop and grow it without any synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
“There’s so much propaganda,” he says. “If GMOs were bad they’d hurt the organic guys first so we’re going to show that it can be done.”
Popoff says he’s surprised that groups like the B.C. Fruit Growers Association have come out against GMOs because there is no scientific evidence they are harmful. In fact, he says, many of the fruits people eat exist only because of genetic modification.
“If we didn’t have GMOs, the papaya would be extinct now,” he says. “They couldn’t figure out how to solve (the papaya ring spot virus) through traditional agronomic science. The only way they saved the papaya was through GMOs.”
One thing he reminds people is that very few GMOs involve crossing genes from one species to another. In the case of the papaya, he says, genes were taken from one species of papaya and implanted into another. The result was a heartier fruit that anyone could grow.
“The biggest misconception about GMOs is that they’re all controlled by Monsanto,” Popoff says. “I don’t care about Monsanto. I couldn’t care less. They’re like General Motors or IBM, they’re just a big, stupid company. They own some of the biggest GMOs but a lot of them are not patented.”
Unpatented GMOs are called open source GMOs and that is the kind of crop Popoff and his team are growing.
“The crop is already in the ground but it will be two years before it’s certified organic,” he says. “I can’t tell you where it is because anti-GMO activists will vandalize the field. I’ve had death threats. That’s been going on for years.”
Popoff intends to carry on despite the obstacles, because, he says, it’s the right thing to do.
“I don’t know any other industry where science is rejected,” he says. “Imagine someone came along and said ‘hey everyone we have a car that runs of vegetable oil or uses half the gas,’ that’s sort of what’s happening now. The B.C. fruit industry is not doing well and the apple growers are doing worse. Instead of embracing (GMO’s) they’re rejecting it. They’re scared of the solution… instead of suppressing it they should embrace it.”
For more information on the pro-GMO movement, visit the Is It Organic? website.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-0428. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.