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Sustainable Ag: GE Alfalfa Threatens Organics

Sustainable agriculture, consumer groups, Monsanto encourage farmers, consumers to submit comments to U.S. Department of Agriculture

Amid ongoing uncertainty over the safety and efficacy of genetically engineered (GE) crops, or GMOs, a new round of fighting has broken out, this time over GE alfalfa and its impact on organics.

alfalfa-field-featured.jpgFarmers are suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for approving Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (herbicide-resistant) alfalfa seeds before considering the full effects on farms, the environment, and on food safety (See Monsanto Appeal goes to Supreme Court, Jan. 21). As the public comment period on the issue nears the end, sustainable agriculture and consumers groups are emphasizing their concern over potential damage to the organic industry.

George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley Family of Farms, the largest farmer-owned organic dairy co-op in the country, thinks GE alfalfa “threatens the very fabric of the organic industry.” 

According to Siemon, organic farmers rely on organic alfalfa for feed and GE alfalfa could threaten the supply by contaminating organic crops.

“In order for dairy products to be marketed as organic, certified organic alfalfa must be used as forage. When contamination of GE alfalfa becomes widespread, organic dairy farmers will no longer be able to give that assurance,” Siemon recently told the Organic and Non-GMO Report.

Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots sustainable agriculture organization, issued an action alert earlier this week to rally its network against USDA approval.

“Since freedom from genetically modified materials is a central tenet to complying with the Organic Standards, failure to reject GMO alfalfa will make the Obama/Vilsack USDA a willing accomplice in the destruction of the organic sector,” said the organization in its alert.

Coinciding Food Democracy Now!’s outreach, Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, released new poll data yesterday showing that two-thirds of organic food consumers are concerned about GE ingredients contaminating organic food.

“Given the popularity of alfalfa sprouts among health-oriented eaters, Consumers Union urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to consider the overwhelming consumer concern before deciding to allow GE alfalfa on the market,” the group said in its release.

“USDA’s draft [Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)] is inadequate, leaving farmers and consumers unprotected,” said Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist with Consumers Union. “This alfalfa has been engineered to allow herbicides to be used on it

that would normally kill the crop. The EIS states that consumers and

organic farmers don’t care if their organic food is GE-contaminated.”

“Consumers Union’s poll states the exact opposite: consumers care greatly,” said Hansen.

Monsanto is also seeking to mobilize its supporters to submit comments on the issue.

“Monsanto and Forage Genetics International are asking that you voice your support for Roundup Ready alfalfa directly, in writing, with the USDA during the public comment period,” the company said on its website. “It is important that the USDA receives letters of support from farmers and other members of the U.S. agricultural industry — some of whom may have first-hand experience with the benefits of biotech crops like Roundup Ready alfalfa.”

The USDA has until the close of business today, Wednesday, March 3, 2010, to receive public comment on its draft EIS.

Comments can be made directly to the Federal eRulemaking portal here.

© Food Safety News
  • Schiller Thurkettle

    Surely a law firm would know that GM crops do not threaten organic farming. Read the regulations!

  • Elizabeth Peyinghaus

    I have experienced health problems from the chemicals that are in my supposedly healthy food. We, consumers, DO care if our organic food is GE-contaminated. This is harmful to our food production and health. Please put a stop to this!

  • concerned

    The threat to organically grown, unmodified plants comes from the ability of GM alfalfa to genetically contaminate conventional and organic alfalfa as it is cross-pollinated by bees (insect-pollinated). Alfalfa pollen is thus mobile and can travel several miles. Of course bees do not discriminate between GM and natural varieties and will spread the pesticide resistant gene, and any other biotech changes.
    If the RoundUp Ready seed trait is released into the environment it will likely be very difficult, if not impossible, to limit this variety only to the farms that actually CHOOSE to grow GM crops.
    GM pollen IS a real threat to biodiversity. Once the modified gene is transmitted in seed by the cross-pollinated plants, it may be impossible to grow non-GM alfalfa.
    One challenge with GMO issues is that some individuals are willing to form an opinion without educating themselves, especially when it comes to basic science. It’s a shame that emotions and economic interests can so easily obscure the indisputable facts.
    Genetic contamination from GM canola has already occurred (also insect-pollinated).

  • Joshua Reed

    GM Crops do affect all. These ecological system is a system that circles around and around with no waste. Everything little thing counts. Round up ready crops are dangerous, do to the poisons that get sprayed. Goes to crop, soil, water, insects, animals,people. Guarantee that if we look at history you would see a trend in sickness emerging at higher rates with the GM industry along with what they all depend on Processing. So even if you arent organic you best worry about your horses because it will change there digestion. It is foreign and horses depend on grass. So this isn’t just a one sided issue this is a full circle issues with the next generation to see the greatest damage. To there home and to there parents, perhaps no more organic food but only chemicals.

  • James

    To allow the marketing of GM crops throughout the world not knowing what the long-term consequences are is not only irresponsible but immoral. If its unrestrained diffusion and potential virulence should become manifest it will be too late; we are talking about the health of human and non-human animals. In the meatime it only serves to fatten the “loan shark” industry which takes advantage of naive, unscrupulous or avid individuals by creating an irreversible bond similarly to that of drug addiction where defection becomes synonomous to capitulation.

  • Actually, the poll conducted by the Consumer’s Union does not disagree with the USDA’s conclusion. It was the Consumer’s Union that misrepresented their own poll and tried to obscure the results. Most people were not concerned, followed by those who were only ‘somewhat concerned’ Very few people were very concerned or extremely concerned, even amongst people who bought organic! Michael Hansen’s statement that ‘consumers care greatly’ is false given their own poll.
    There’s a great discussion going on at Biofortified about the poll results, including a graph so you can see what they really found:

  • debbie

    It seems obvious that as soon as you contaminate a crop with insectisides indiscrimminatly, then you add to that the insecticide being in the seed itsself…so now you have a seed and the insectiside! Add to that the cross contamination of future seeds, then you also loose your seed diviersity. all leads to a mess. this all seems so absurd. without honest testing at all levels of this process it is absolutly irrisponsible. It is shocking that the people we pay to protect the American citizens interests are not being far more cautious.No matter what polls may indicate, people would be far more concerned if given information about what is going on.

  • patricia schiewe

    There is a possiblity that the GMO crops are the reason behind the die off of the bees. Farmers in India lost their goats by letting them graze on the GMO cotten fields. We are taking a terrbile risk with all these chemicals. It is indeed madness to take such a big risk and GMO feed will contaminate so many foods. One can avoid corn and soy buy when you add milk and meat products not much is left. Sincerely, Patricia Schiewe