Genetically modified (GM) alfalfa seed, possibly mislabeled, may become an issue in the final weeks of the Initiative 522 campaign in Washington state. I-522 would require any foods offered for retail sale that were produced with genetically engineered ingredients be labeled as such beginning in July 2015.
Here’s what happened. Around Labor Day, a broker rejected alfalfa from an unnamed Eastern Washington farmer after finding evidence of pesticide resistance attributable to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The alfalfa seeds were turned over to the Washington State Department of Agriculture for testing at its seed lab in Yakima. Department spokesman Mike Louisell said the alfalfa seeds might have been mislabeled. The farmer thought he was growing conventional alfalfa, not a GM crop.
GM alfalfa with pesticide resistance is approved for commercial use in the U.S. It means this incident is comparable to others that have occurred in the U.S., usually where a neighboring GM field contaminates an organic crop. While the precise number of these incidents isn’t known, courts are accepting claims by one farmer alleging damage caused by a neighbor.
This latest Washington GM alfalfa incident is not as startling as last spring’s discovery of the GM wheat plantings in Eastern Oregon from a Monsanto project that had been abandoned a decade earlier for a crop that was never permitted in the U.S. How that happened remains a mystery.
In the more routine instances of contamination, it’s usually due to seed impurities, wind, insect-borne cross-pollination, feral plants, or inadequate harvest or handling practices, according to Jim Riddle, organic outreach coordinator for the University of Minnesota.
How the alfalfa incident is used in the campaign remains to be seen. This week, the I-522 debate entered the TV phase. While the “No” committee is certain to buy more time for television commercials, both sides are expected to have broadcast campaigns.
Just before the TV advertising began, at least one independent poll showed that I-522 had support from 65 percent of Evergreen State voters. The challenge is to keep that number above 50 percent in a state where one political operative was known for saying that “‘yes’ campaigns drop like rocks.”
The “No on 522” has raised $11.105 million to date and only spent $1.662 million. Monsanto, at $4.834 million, and Dupont, at $3.420 million, are the largest contributors to the “No on 522” campaign. The “Yes on I-522” committee has raised $3.6 million and spent $857,688. Its largest contributors are Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, at $950,000, and the Organic Consumer Fund, with $480,000.© Food Safety News