Surprise Approval of GMO Alfalfa

Surprise Approval of GMO Alfalfa Threatens the Environment
and Organic Dairy Farms

Last June, in a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that farmers and ordinary citizens have the legal right to sue in federal courts to keep crops and food from becoming contaminated by genetically modified organisms. The crop at issue in that lawsuit was Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa, which was created to withstand Monsanto’s patented weed poison, Roundup.

The court found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had approved sale of the GMO alfalfa without a thorough environmental impact review. Last week, however, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack cleared Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa for unrestricted sale, ignoring the more than 200,000 comments his agency received opposing deregulation.

As Tom Philpott reports in Grist, there’s quite a bit of evidence that this latest Monsanto victory is part and parcel of President Obama’s promises, made most recently in last week’s State of the Union address, to direct federal agencies to lift regulations that “burden” the business sector. As a practical matter, Vilsack’s announcement punts the issue back into federal court. The Center for Food Safety, which filed the initial lawsuit, has announced its intention to challenge the deregulation.

Monsanto claims that its GMO alfalfa produces increased yields, but its major “advantage” is that it can withstand unlimited applications of Roundup, while any weeds in the alfalfa fields are killed by the herbicide. However, while Monsanto has claimed for decades that Roundup degrades harmlessly in soil, in 2009 France’s highest court found the company criminally guilty of false advertising for these claims. In addition to poisoning our air, soil and water, no significant research has been done to determine the effects of eating products from animals fed genetically-engineered grain, nor of directly consuming foods made with genetically engineered crops such as soy and corn, which are ubiquitous in American supermarkets. Essentially, Monsanto and other agribusinesses that promote GMO foods are experimenting on consumers.

Alfalfa is grown primarily to feed dairy cows and horses, with more than 20 million acres devoted to its cultivation in the United States each year. Among the concerns raised by GMO alfalfa are that it will contaminate the fields of organic alfalfa through cross-pollination, as has happened widely with Monsanto’s GMO Roundup resistant corn, threatening the crops and livelihood of organic farmers and making it more difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to be sure they are purchasing dairy products that are truly organic.

Perhaps even worse, according to the Center for Food Safety, the USDA’s own analysis indicates that widespread cultivation of Monsanto’s Roundup resistant alfalfa will lead to huge increases in the application of the herbicide, which poisons soil, water, air, birds, animals and people. In addition, widespread use of Roundup has created herbicide resistant “super weeds,” which has led farmers throughout the United States to abandon soil conservation methods in favor of destructive plowing and increased use of toxic weed killing agents.

You can learn more about the fight against GMO alfalfa and the GMO takeover of agriculture on the websites of the Cornucopia Institute, the Center for Food Safety and the Organic Consumers Association.