(Beyond Pesticides, February 1, 2010) Public health, environmental and organic agriculture advocates are urging the public to submit comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa by the February 16, 2010 deadline, demanding that USDA protect organic food from GE contamination and not approve Monsanto’s GE alfalfa. USDA claims in the EIS that there is no evidence that consumers care about GE contamination of organic alfalfa. But, it is not just alfalfa that is at risk. Since alfalfa is fed to dairy cows and other livestock, organic dairy and meat products could also be affected.
Last week, Beyond Pesticides reported that in the ongoing battle to stop the use of GE alfalfa seeds, Monsanto v. Geerston Seed Farms will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The seed is modified to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, sold by Monsanto under the brand name Roundup. In 2006 the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and several other farming and environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, filed suit on behalf of Geerston Seed Farms. The suit led to a U.S. District Court ruling that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) by approving the sale of GE alfalfa without requiring an environmental impact statement (EIS). Monstanto was forced to stop selling the seed until a comprehensive EIS is prepared. This was the first ever moratorium in the U.S. on a genetically engineered, or modified, crop.
The draft EIS was then published in December 2009. Brushing aside the concerns of organic alfalfa growers, consumers, and environmentalists, USDA argues for non-regulated status of GE alfalfa. According to this document, the economic gains of ending the ban far outweigh any possible losses, going so far as to say USDA could find no opposition to GE products among organic consumers. According to the EIS, the USDA:
”¢ Claims consumers will not reject GE contamination of organic alfalfa if the contamination is unintentional or if the GE material is not transmitted to the end milk or meat product;
”¢ Claims it supports “coexistence” of all types of agriculture; yet, USDA refuses to even consider any future for alfalfa that would include protections from contamination for organic and conventional farmers and exporters;
”¢ Claims Monsanto’s seed contracts require measures sufficient to prevent GE contamination, and there is no evidence to the contrary. USDA is ignoring evidence from widespread GE contamination of canola, soy, and corn;
”¢ Admits, correctly, that introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa will increase Roundup use. However, USDA’s claims that the increase is not significant and that Roundup will replace other, more toxic herbicides are inaccurate; and,
”¢ Concludes that GE alfalfa will cause production to shift to larger farms (that can afford built-in isolation distances) and conventional growers who are not threatened by GE contamination, but that these economic shifts are not significant.
”¢ You won’t buy GE contaminated alfalfa and alfalfa-derived meat & dairy products;
”¢ To protect all farmers, organic included, who wish to choose to grow non-GE crops;
”¢ That protecting organic farmers is its job and that relying solely on Monsanto’s business as usual “best practices” ensures widespread GE contamination;
”¢ That GE alfalfa would significantly increase pesticide use and increase harm to human health and the environment; and,
”¢ That harm to small and organic farmers from GE contamination would be significant.
How to comment: Comments are due March 3, 2010. Comments can be written and submitted online at http://ga3.org/campaign/alfalfaEIS, or at regulations.gov. For mailed comments, send two copies to: Docket No. APHIS-2007-0044, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. Please state that your comment refers to Docket No. APHIS-2007-0044.
Alfalfa is our nation’s fourth largest crop. Grown on 23 million acres, and used primarily for forage, it is the first perennial crop to be genetically modified. It is estimated that before the ban over 260,000 acres of GE alfalfa had been planted in the U.S. by 5,500 growers. GE alfalfa presents a unique risk to organic growers: unlike wind pollinated crops such as corn, alfalfa is pollinated by bees. This results in higher risk of cross pollination between GE alfalfa and unmodified varieties. Growers of GE corn are required to plant a buffer of unmodified corn around their fields to keep pollen carrying engineered genes from contaminating other growers’ fields or wild plants. These regulations have reduced, but not eliminated, the incidence of cross fertilization in corn. In alfalfa fields, these regulations would be even less successful, since bees can carry pollen up to five miles from their hive.
Beyond Pesticides opposes the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because of the dangers they pose to human health and the environment. The widescale adoption of genetically modified crops has lead to a marked increase in the use of pesticides, and emerging research has linked genetically modified crops to organ damage. All the while, these crops have failed in their promise to deliver a marked increase in yield.
Previous Daily News Coverage
GE Alfalfa Case To Be Heard Before The U.S. Supreme Court, 1/25/10
Comments Needed: USDA To Allow Deregulation of GE Alfalfa Again, 12/17/09
Federal Court Upholds Ban on Genetically Engineered Alfalfa, 9/4/08
Federal Judge Orders Injunction, Complete Review of Alfalfa, 5/9/07
Following the GE Crop Debate, 5/1/07
Federal Judge Orders Historic First Moratorium on GE Seeds, 3/14/07
Federal Judge Rules USDA Violated Law Regarding GE Seeds, 2/15/07