In an open letter to stakeholders Thursday, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack called for “a new paradigm of coexistence and cooperation” for both genetically engineered and non-GE agricultural approaches.

The letter comes just two weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture completed its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa, the status of which has been caught in litigation since 2005.

Farmers and the Center for Food Safety sued the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for deregulating the alfalfa without fully studying its impacts. The groups won a favorable ruling, which was upheld in appellate court, that barred GE alfalfa until the government adequately studied whether it could contaminate conventional and organic crops. Monsanto took the matter to the Supreme Court, which voted 7-1 to lift the ban, but also agreed that an impact statement was required.

“These actions have generated tremendous interest in USDA’s and my intentions regarding our ability to objectively regulate GE agricultural products and whether we are focused enough on science,” wrote Vilsack in the letter.  “I have tremendous confidence in our existing regulatory system and no doubts about the safety of the products this system has approved and will continue to approve.”

Vilsack also lamented that agriculture issues are “always complex” as he called for approaches for both GE and non-GE alfalfa production that are “reasonable and practical.”

“The rapid adoption of GE crops has clashed with the rapid expansion of demand for organic and other non-GE products. This clash led to litigation and uncertainty,” wrote Vilsack, adding that the fight between GE and non-GE alfalfa should not be a zero sum equation.

“Surely, there is a better way, a solution that acknowledges agriculture’s complexity, while celebrating and promoting its diversity.  By continuing to bring stakeholders together in an attempt to find common ground where the balanced interests of all sides could be advanced, we at USDA are striving to lead an effort to forge a new paradigm based on coexistence and cooperation,” he added. “If successful, this effort can ensure that all forms of agriculture thrive so that food can remain abundant, affordable, and safe.”

  • Jerry Cunningham

    Vilsak is still carrying water for Monsanto.
    Coexistence is not possible with GE Alfalfa for it will contaminate all alfalfa thus giving Monsanto control over all alfalfa, and that is the goal here and Vilsak knows that.
    This is a crime against humanity.

  • miranda dobrin

    Jerry’s comment is way off base. Alfalfa forage is managed by any decent farmer to be cut before the plants flower – so there is almost no chance for “contamination” to GE sensitive growers there. Thus, how in the world is a company like Monsanto “take control” of all alfalfa – that’s absurd. Patents are granted and enforced on the basis of their utility. If a grower tries to use Roundup over a field that they think has the roundup ready trait, they have an intent to use the trait and should be willing to pay for the technology like other growers. Alfalfa seed growers for years have been able to manage their seed quality without significant issues.

  • Kat

    Jerry is not way off-base. He is 100% correct, in fact.
    Monsanto has put thousands of small farmers out of business by sewing them for GE seeds that ended up on their land, without their knowledge. That is a fact. Look up the court cases, they exist.
    Vilsack knows all of this because he used to work for Monsanto. As have several FDA employees. It is called revolving door politics.
    This is not only a crime against humanity, it is a crime against nature. It is a crime against Mother Earth as we know it. Produce is the only line of business not industrialized to the point of monopolization and corruption. That is Monsanto’s goal. That is the government’s goal. They are one in the same.

  • Doc Mudd

    GMO alfalfa is a non-issue but for CFS’s contorted political gyrations.
    Vilsack is being sucked into a frustrating, no-win grappling match with unrealistic activists who pride themselves on being impossible to reason with. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, if you wrestle with pigs you all will get dirty, but the pigs love it.
    Where the hell is Merrigan, anyway? Why isn’t she babysitting the anti-GMO fools so Vilsack can get some worthwhile work accomplished?

  • Susan

    Vilisack is a bed with Monsanto. Any fool knows that.
    GMO’s are not safe. Absence of testing in the USA is because the biotech industry has blocked the testing. If foreign DNA is so safe, why do wildlife and rats, given the choice, refuse to eat it!
    I refuse to eat it and I’m not a rat like Vilisack and Monsanto!

  • Susan

    Doc Mudd, You are part of the problem alike Vilisack and the biotech-pesticide industry –not part of the solution.
    Our nation’s waters are becoming more contaminated with Roundup and other petrochemical pest controls and the air around agriculture is more polluted than ever before in its history. Certainly, you are selling more toxic economic poisons and the weeds are becoming resistant to your methods. But, they cannot be turned under to decompose because your products and constant spraying has killed off the decomposers.
    You pooh-pooh independent scientists at the FDA and around the world who do not work for Monsanto and the biotech pesticide industry, but you are afraid the truth will be told and are likely the reason for blocking peer reviewed scientific studies on the public health effects of not only changing the DNA of crops, but incessant pest control spraying. Soon pests in this nation will become like China’s super insects. Then, what? Use of more toxic petrochemical pest controls?
    What crops do you eat? Those grown in Europe that are not GMO’s?
    Pigs in Germany can reproduce because they do not eat GMO corn. Not so, with most pigs grown in the USA, they have become sterile. What is occurring to the pigs, is also occurring to humans. Mass sterilization for future children because of toxic food? Or, worse. Mass spontaneous abortions because of toxic agriculture.
    No wonder pets and livestock given a choice, will not eat GMO crops. No wonder wildlife will not eat GMO livestock, they want the real McCoy, the non-GMO’s fed livestock. Is that the reason the agri-chemical industry wants to eliminate the endangered wolves and other endangered species? Are they the “canaries in the mine” of toxic agriculture???
    Vilisack is part of the problem and those who support him are destroying jobs for farmers who sustain life and health and give consumers a choice in this once Democratic country.

  • Miranda Dobrin

    Kat and Susan must be reading too much malarky on the internet. – Secy Vilsack has not worked for Monsanto, but as the govenor of the largest corn producing state in the country, he cleary would have had to work with Monsanto and other private and public entities that work and sell products to farmers.
    – What is the comment about not having any testing in the US supposed to mean?? THere are hundered of field trials that take place in the US to assess the performance of new GE crops.
    – “Changing the DNA of crops” happens every day and with every new variety that if produced be it GE, conventional or organic.
    – Pigs in Germany most likely (and happily) eat lots of GE soybean meal and GE corn dried distillers. The EU would be very hard pressed to be self sufficient to meet the protein and caloric needs of their livestock industry without relying on imported grain. Do a bit more checking into reliable sources and don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

  • leafer

    it would be a great surprise, though possible, if at one point mr. vilsack did not work for monsanto. but we know that members of the bush admin. as well as justice clarence thomas WERE emploees of monsanto, so no surprise there with the recet7-1 overturn on GMO alfalfa ban.
    cross-pollination is not incidental, but inevitable. from the beginning (in davis, with tomatoes) monsanto blatently disregarded cautions and even court orders to desist open field experimenting. now, with their GMO spores blowing everywhere, they have the backingof the supreme court to claim as their property anything that has interbred. (workedout nicely for them, no?)
    it’s about time the little farmers, the ones who do notgo into debt, the ones who do not take-take-take from the earth, the ones who maintain healthy systems, get the respect and the support they deserve.
    but until monsanto is not a virtual branch of government, cross-pollinated farmers and organic farmers will continue to be pushed out and “eliminated”.
    you see the scare on big-farm spinach; yet when is the last time you knewsomeone who was poisoned by spinach at their local farmer’s market?
    happy eating in 2011, especially for locals.

  • Doc Mudd

    Hmmm, I dunno, leafer.
    “you see the scare on big-farm spinach…”
    Oops, that 2006 e coli spinach outbreak was from a small organic farm in California. But, yeah, ‘we saw that scare’.
    “with their GMO spores blowing everywhere”
    Oops again, possibility of seed contamination with any alfalfa pollen (GMO or otherwise) is minimal by virtue of standard cultural practice. It’s a non-issue. Anyone familiar with farming understands that. ‘Spores’, indeed.
    “it’s about time the little farmers…the ones who do not take-take-take from the earth…get the respect and the support they deserve.”
    Tending to agree with you there, leafer – turns out it’s your dreamy “little” hobby farms that have, in recent decades, been gorging on grant funding and now belligerently thumbing their noses at consumer safety. So we’re finally learning just how little ‘respect and support they deserve’ going forward. It’s about time we wake up to reality.
    Your precious “little farmers” haven’t needed to “take-take-take” from the earth so long as they could “take-take-take” from the taxpayer. Google up ‘grants for small farms and farm markets’ at the state and federal levels; maybe begin with “SARE”, which has pissed through a few hundred millions of dollars farting around with wishful hobby farm claptrap. Here’s just one link to one state (North Carolina) to get you started:
    All said and done, we have little enough to show for 40 years of generous speculative ‘small farm’ cash give-away grants. Now, there’s the ideal place to begin carving big savings out of federal and state budgets in 2011 and beyond. Public funding for this bogus ‘research’ of hobbies should be eliminated…completely.
    Hobby farmers “deserve” no more taxpayer give-aways since there’s been nothing new discovered, no meaningful progress in 40 years and clearly no prospect of anything meaningful emerging after all of this time and wasted capital investment. Just a big hoax, a big wishful, sentimental, expensive con-job fleecing all of us gullible consumers at every turn. We may as well have been investing in perpetual motion machines.

  • Mallory H

    I’ve been reading about a lot of industry trolls posting on the net to influence and sway public opinion, or to make debates unintelligible. Doing things like rating progressive political books on Amazon with low scores and giving bad reviews, while doing the polar opposite for conservative political books. Everyone is anonymous on the net. You never know who is posting. Best to do your own research.

  • Susan

    Field tests are not the same as public health testing.
    According to Dr. Arpad Pusztai:
    “How can the public make informed decisions about genetically modified (GM) foods when there is so little information about its safety?
    The reasons are many…
    * It’s more difficult to evaluate the safety of crop-derived foods than individual chemical, drug, or food additives. Crop foods are more complex and their composition varies according to differences in growth and agronomic conditions.
    * Publications on GM food toxicity are scarce. An article in Science magazine said it all: “Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods: Many Opinions but Few Data”.1 In fact, no peer-reviewed publications of clinical studies on the human health effects of GM food exist. Even animal studies are few and far between.
    *The preferred approach of the industry has been to use compositional comparisons between GM and non-GM crops. When they are not significantly different the two are regarded as “substantially equivalent”, and therefore the GM food crop is regarded as safe as its conventional counterpart. This ensures that GM crops can be patented without animal testing. However, substantial equivalence is an unscientific concept that has never been properly defined and there are no legally binding rules on how to establish it.
    There is more information at:
    I have never become ill eating organic food. As far as spinach is concerned, I steam ours.
    The roof of my mouth becomes inflamed eating petrochemical pesticide crops, which I generally go out of my way to avoid.
    The presumably GMO- contaminated organic crops make me belch, whereas those that are not contaminated don’t affect me at all.
    Apparently, many people get gastrointestinal acid reflux disease from eating pesumably GM crops. Parents are being sold Nexium or Prilosec for infants who have chronic heartburn, or acid reflux disease.
    I also read that in the late 90’s, Aventis cut 6,000 jobs worldwide including in the U.K. to move to the USA. Could it be that the U.K. is going organic and doesn’t need pharms to take away the symptoms of GM crops?

  • Doc Mudd

    “In fact, no peer-reviewed publications of clinical studies on the human health effects of GM food exist. Even animal studies are few and far between.”
    A blatant prevarication, as it turns out. Here’s just one example of some of the exhaustive research that’s been completed:
    If you google to sites other than the discredited Puzstai and the ridicuolus Mercola, you will find roughly three times the number of legitimate scientific studies shown in the link above. I suggest using google ‘Scholar’ to bypass some of the most blatant propaganda sites and locate credible information.
    GMO is a non-issue. Don’t fall for the fearmongering propaganda of insidious pro-starvation anti-agriculture activists. The sky is not falling; it’s only Susan’s rude belching you hear.

  • Graham Hawkins

    I wonder how many people commenting here read the headline. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the comment thread has turned into a wrestling match. What we need is good science, diligent investigation, and a regulator that stops people selling food that makes you sick. No more, no less. Thumbs up to the people who are defending science, and informed decision making.

  • ecofoodologist

    Thumbs up for science indeed. Let’s pay for real science and not propaganda. Regardless of the usefulness and well intended potential of GE crops, there are some important questions that American taxpayers need to answer in determining what we get for our scientific investment. Here are a few.
    How many people do we want to feed, and who profits from the investment in technology to feed them? Should we, to put money in the pockets of BigAg, subsidize exports to feed people who don’t install governments that respect their soil and other resources? How many millions of miners and indentured sweat shop workers will rely on our sterile, less nutritious GE bounty? Isn’t this really about profiting from the desperation of the billions at the bottom so they can provide rare earth metals and minerals for our “needs?” Segregating these issues is a symptom of our intensely specialized culture. Other, less cynical scenarios are possible, but the population issue is at the bottom.
    Do we want to lead the next OPEC style cartel? Doesn’t this contrived food universe begin to look like a food cartel? Food is increasingly produced using proprietary knowledge. Standards, such as the Leafy Greens Management Agreement (LGMA), are written by those who can finance sterile facilities, to perform the “alchemy of eatables?” Seed stocks are increasingly proprietary and provide less nutritious food, creating more need for calories. This does not require a grand conspiracy, just the opportunity for profits, (promoted as hitech entrepreneurship and jobs, jobs, jobs)… then sit back until the energetic Americans “innovate, engineer, and make it happen.”
    I hear Doc Mudd in the frustration with the retail price of whole foods. I want the prices to come down too. The most effective way to bring down prices is to subsidize economies of scale. We (you and I) are subsidizing an economy of scale to the advantage of BigAg that by any account, is profitable and the food I get from GE is in many instances not improved as food. It is mostly just pretty and more profitable. We (individually or collectively) can subsidize regional agriculture, take a stand against feeding exponential population growth, and financially punish whomever profits from it.
    It would not hurt our younger generation (especially urbanites) to build a more expansive knowledge food production through sweat equity while building a more robust food production and delivery system. Produce that ripens on trucks and animals that need antibiotics to prolong their wallowing in feces are not that robust system. They are a contrivance by those who profit unreasonably from the cultivation of enough food to provide all of us over four thousand calories per day. I don’t want to pay for that system any more. Who does?
    Americans spend less than 10% of our incomes on food and other eatables. I will happily spend 15-20% of my income (half of what most of the world spends) for better food, including an occasional expensive treat of Mexican strawberries in February or California figs in December. My reward is to avoid being the tool of BigAg. With all due respect to Dr. Vilsack, I don’t believe those who profit from GE will allow a truce. They have budgeted for several thousand attorneys to press harder when the non-GMOers let down their guard. Buy real food! ef