Genetically Modified Alfalfa Will Inevitably Contaminate Non-Genetically Modified Crops
A recent decision to allow unrestricted planting of
genetically modified Roundup Ready alfalfa threatens consumer choice and the livelihoods of
organic and conventional growers.
“The decision to allow the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa will destroy the livelihoods
of tens of thousands of family farmers, from alfalfa hay producers to organic dairies and others,”
said Todd Leake, farmer from Emerado, N.D., and Dakota Resource Council (DRC) member. “The Secretary of Agriculture
has apparently decided to bring to an end to a growing sector of American agriculture and take
away the living of hard working farmers and their families.”
Leake said the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had ignored the damage
contamination causes to conventional and organic producers and the narrowing of choices for
consumers until DRC and others sued in 2007. The court ruled USDA’s approval of GM alfalfa
violated environmental laws by failing to look at the risks of contamination of conventional and
organic alfalfa, weed resistance, and greater use of glyphosate herbicide, sold as Roundup by
Monsanto. The court banned new plantings of GM alfalfa until USDA completed a more
comprehensive assessment of these impacts. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals twice affirmed
the ban. In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban on Roundup Ready alfalfa until
and unless future deregulation occurs.
“USDA acknowledged these problems in its final environmental study but still has done
nothing to address the problems,” Leake said. “USDA and the Administration have sided with
Monsanto against conventional and organic producers and consumers, even as they pay lip
service to the importance of the organic and local food movements.”
Vilsack’s decision could jeopardize sales of conventional alfalfa to some foreign
countries if the crop is contaminated with genetically modified material, Leake said.
Alfalfa is the main forage crop for dairy cows and one of the principle foods for beef cows, especially grass-fed cattle. Alfalfa is a perennial, easily lasting five years once planted. And it's bee-pollinated, which means each year, every non-GM alfalfa plant within five miles of every GM alfalfa plant will likely be contaminated by GM genes.
According to the Organic Consumers Association, "...the massive planting of a chemical and energy-intensive GM perennial crop, 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."
The consensus of the scientific
community is that if genetically modified crops are deregulated and commercialized,
contamination of non-genetically modified crops of the same species is inevitable, and
beyond the tolerances of export customers.
Experts are predicting that it will not be possible to prevent contamination of conventional
and organic alfalfa or the spread of glyphosate resistant weeds entirely through
geographical restrictions and isolation distance requirements for genetically modified
About 20 million acres of alfalfa are grown in the United States. Alfalfa is the fourth
largest crop after corn, soybeans and wheat.