(Beyond Pesticides, February 1, 20011) On January 31, 2011, a coalition of organic companies and environmental organizations, including Beyond Pesticides, released an open letter and call to action on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) January 27 decision to deregulate “RoundUp Ready” (glyphosa te-tolerant) genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa, allowing its unrestricted cultivation and threatening organic and non-GE conventional farmers. It sets a precedent for future deregulation of GE crops. The letter encourages individuals to write to President Obama opposing the decision and asking that the administration reconsider its position. Other signatories include upcoming National Pesticide Forum keynote Maria Rodale (CEO, Rodale, Inc. and author of Organic Manifesto), National Organic Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Organic Trade Association, Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farm, and more.
The decision to deregulate GE alfalfa follows USDA’s completion of the court-mandated environmental impact statement (EIS). Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called for “coexistence” among GE, organic and conventional non-GE farmers, despite the clear recognition in the EIS that GE contamination of organic and conventionally grown crops presents a huge problem. The EIS also fails to take into account the documented increase in herbicide-resistant “super weeds” that is requiring the use of highly toxic herbicide cocktails for weed control on conventional farms. Likewise, USDA has not shown that contamination-free coexistence with deregulated GE alfalfa is likely or possible. GE alfalfa would not have to be labeled, nor would meat from livestock fed GE alfalfa.
The letter concludes with a call to action: As we move forward, we are united in opposing genetically engineered organisms in food production and believe that pressure to stop the proliferation of this contaminating technology must be focused on the White House and Congress. The companies responsible for this situation are the biotech companies whose GE technology causes genetic drift and environmental hazards that are not contained as the deregulation of genetically engineered alfalfa goes forward. The organic community stands together with consumer, farmer, environmental and business interests to ensure practices that are protective of health and the environment. We urge you to join us today: Take Action.
Other critics of the announcement, cosponsors of the original Organic Foods Productions Act, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR), said, “This long approval process began as a search for a workable compromise, but it has ended as a surrender to business as usual for the biotech industry. USDA officials had an opportunity to address the concerns of all farmers, whether they choose to farm genetically altered crops, conventional crops, or organic crops, and to find a way for them to coexist. Instead, what we now have is a setback for the nation’s organic and conventional agriculture sectors.”
Alfalfa is the nation’s 4th largest crop, planted on over 21 million acres. Forage and hay are primary feed crops for dairy cows and beef cattle as well as pork, lamb, and sheep. It’s not just for livestock -some vegetable farmers use the hay as mulch and alfalfa meal as a beneficial soil amendment. Alfalfa sprouts constitute an important sector of the salad market and alfalfa also plays a major role in honey production.
Genetic engineering is often touted by chemical manufacturers as a way to reduce pesticide usage and increase disease resistance. In reality, it has actually been shown to increase pesticide usage, while disease resistant varieties are still largely in the experimental stages. Most GE crops currently on the market are genetically modified to be resistant to pests and pesticides through the incorporation of genes into food crops from a natural bacterium insecticide (Bt) or the development of herbicide-resistant crops. Thus, there are serious public health and pest resistance problems associated with GE crops. For instance, in a recent study by University of Notre Dame, scientists found that streams throughout the Midwest are contaminated with GE materials from corn crop byproducts, even six months after harvest. The long-term health effects of consuming GE food are still unknown. GE crops are also known to contaminate conventional non-GE and organic crops through “genetic drift” and take a toll on the environment by increasing resistant insects and weeds, contaminating water and affecting pollinators and other non-target organisms.
Learn more on Beyond Pesticides GE program page.