Ironically, while I was touring organic and biodynamic farms in Costa Rica last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a decision that leaves Americans decidedly more vulnerable to genetically engineered food. With the Obama administration’s backing, the USDA 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.” Huh.
Grist senior food and agriculture writer Tom Philpott called the decision “a complete USDA cave-in to the biotech industry's demands, and yet more evidence that Obama wants to be seen as a friend to powerful business interests—at the expense of smaller, less powerful interests like organic alfalfa and dairy growers, and, in this case, of the public interest.”
Alfalfa, which serves mainly as cow feed, represents about 7 percent of U.S. cropland, or 20 million acres. According to Philpott, genetically modified alfalfa can easily cross-breed with non-GM alfalfa, putting organic growers at risk. Organic Consumers Association (OCA) president Ronnie Cummins predicted the chemical- and energy-intensive Roundup Ready alfalfa is “guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa across the U.S.”
According to a recent Thomson Reuters Pulse Healthcare Survey, only 25 percent of Americans completely understand genetic engineering and 93 percent believe GMO foods should be labeled. The OCA has launched a nationwide Truth-in-Labeling campaign to stop Monsanto from force-feeding unlabeled GMOs to animals and humans. To help organize or coordinate a Millions Against Monsanto and Factory Farms Truth-in-Labeling campaign in your community, go to http://organicconsumers.org/oca-volunteer/.
Fields of Roundup Ready alfalfa could disastrously contaminate organic crops and pave the way for more superweeds.