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Tell Obama and Vilsack that Monsanto's Roundup Ready Alfalfa is Not OK

2/3/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: U.S. Department of Agriculture, alfalfa, glyphosate, GMOs, Ecological Society of America, Monsanto, Roundup Ready, Organic Trade Association, Tom Vilsack, Obama

 “Food and everything surrounding it is a crucial matter of personal and public health, of national and global security. At stake is not only the health of humans but that of the earth,” Mark Bitman wrote in his “Food Manifesto for the Future” this week in the New York Times. What timing.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would grant non-regulated status for alfalfa that has been genetically engineered to resist Monsanto’s commercial herbicide known as Roundup. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agency has determined that “Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa.” (Monsanto is the sole purveyor of Roundup and Roundup Ready soybeans and alfalfa.) 

Genetically engineered alfalfa can now be planted without any federal requirements to prevent contamination of organic and non-GE crops, and GE alfalfa does not have to be labeled, leaving consumers completely in the dark and unprotected.

Last September, a groundbreaking study found that Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, causes malformations in frog and chicken embryos at doses far lower than those used in agricultural spraying and well below maximum residue levels in products currently approved in the European Union--which has far stricter standards than the United States. The study was triggered by high birth defect rates in rural areas of Argentina where genetically modified Roundup Ready soybeans are grown. “I suspect the toxicity classification of glyphosate is too low,” Professor Andres Carrasco, director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School, stated. “In some cases, this can be a powerful poison.”

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are made with techniques that alter the molecular or cell biology by means not possible under natural conditions or processes, according to the National Organic Standards Board. No one knows their long-term ecological and health consequences. A German study has found that planting genetically modified potatoes changes bacterial communities in soil. The Ecological Society of America has warned that GMOs could create new or more vigorous pests and pathogens; harm non-target species such as soil organisms, non-pest insecticides, birds and other animals; disrupt biotic communities; and cause irreparable loss or changes in species diversity and genetic diversity within species. Proponents claim that GE crops will boost food production, but even this is questionable. In more than 8,200 field trials, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds produced fewer bushels of soybeans than similar unmodified varieties, according to a study by Charles Benbrook, former director of the Board on Agriculture at the National Academy of Sciences.

Monsanto—and its ally, the USDA—must be stopped.

The Organic Trade Association provides cogent talking points and an easy way to let President Obama know that you don’t want GE crops to continue to proliferate unchecked in the marketplace. Let him know that you will vote for choice both in the grocery store and at the polls in 2012.

As a native Iowan, I’m also going to tell Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that I’m ashamed of my former governor’s cave-in to Monsanto. I urge all of you to get on the USDA’s Facebook page and leave comments every day. Interestingly, the USDA’s often-updated blog didn’t mention the agency’s recent action on Roundup Ready alfalfa, instead posting about how to keep our food safe on Super Bowl Sunday. Seriously?

Let’s all get in there and make our voices heard. 

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