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.