When I read the Environmental Leader’s recent article about the USDA’s decision to plow the way for the planting of genetically modified alfalfa, I was pissed. My nice girl attitude gloves came off and I thought of nasty names to call the USDA (Monsanto’s b-tch. Monsanto’s Mistress, etc.) When can genetically modified anything be good when the jury is still out on its environmental impact?
But maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe, our cows needs to eat GM alfalfa which turns into GM beef and GM milk. And maybe the GM crops won’t have an effect on our organic crops?
Sure. I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.
Why is Genetically Modified Alfalfa so Bad for the Environment?
A year ago, I urged you all to sign a petition telling the USDA to take off the rose colored glasses and deny Monsanto the right to sell genetically modified seeds that could withstand their product, Round-up. (And by the way, just in case you don’t know, Monsanto makes Round-up.) Why?
- Alfalfa is the fourth largest crop, in terms of acreage, grown in the United States behind corn, soybeans, and wheat.
- It is a perennial forage crop, so that it will live for many seasons.
- Cows that eat alfalfa produce good beef and therefore a better price.
- “Alfalfa is a prodigious pollinator — meaning that different varieties can cross-pollinate and transfer genetic material.” [Source.]
- There is uncertainties as to the long term ecological consequences of the use of GE modified crops. A study suggested that planting GE modified potatoes causes changes in the bacteria in the soil.
The Saddest Part. Big Food Industry Triumphs.
How did this mayhem happen? Didn’t our President’s wife supervise the planting of a huge organic garden? So what is good for the White House staff isn’t good for the rest of the US?
The Obama Administration decided last month that it would weed out government proposals that are overly burdensome to businesses. According to a recent Wall Street article, the Administration trumps the USDA. In turn, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s decided not to regulate genetically modified alfalfa seed despite his open letter to stakeholders where he was optimistic that there could be co-existance of genetically and non-genetically modified seed use.
He even acknowledged the USDA’s environmental impact statement reservation of the use of genetically modified seed in his stakeholder’s letter. He states,
“[a]s a regulatory agency, sound science and decisions based on this science are our priority, and science strongly supports the safety of GE alfalfa. But, agricultural issues are always complex and rarely lend themselves to simple solutions. Therefore, we have an obligation to carefully consider USDA’s 2,300 page EIS, which acknowledges the potential of cross-fertilization to non-GE alfalfa from GE alfalfa – a significant concern for farmers who produce for non-GE markets at home and aboard.” [Emphasis added.]
The USDA received 200,000 comments from people who were critical of genetically modified alfalfa and conclusion reached by the USDA’s EIS.
In light of Vilsack’s wish to meet a middle ground, the USDA considered three options on the GE alfalfa: continued regulation, deregulation, or partial deregulation with established measures to insure cross contamination would not occur between conventional GE crops and organic crops.
In the end, the spirit of co-existence was defeated in lieu of a greater good: the Big Food industry. As Tom Philpott, Grist’s senior food and agriculture writer, states in his article about the USDA decision,
“Unhappily, the decision falls into line with other Obama administration gestures of fealty to the agrichemical lobby — like appointments of loyal Monsanto men to key ag-policy posts, and an announcement from the State Department’s USAID program that came out the same day as the USDA’s alfalfa decision…”
Even worse, this decision continues to open the door to future bio-industry expansion. As the bio-industry hailed this decision as a victory, BIO President and Chief Executive Jim Greenwood proclaimed,
“We hope this will help pave the way for new technologies in the pipeline,”
Is the Handwriting on the Wall for Organics?
The USDA seems to be taking a very obvious stance with their non-regulation of GM alfalfa as well as their establishment of the bio-preferred product certification to commence in February 21, 2011.
According to USDA Biopreferred site, the purpose of the program is to increase the purchase and use of bioproducts to reduce our country’s carbon footprint. Federal agencies and contractors are required to give preferences to biobased products where the purchase price of an item exceeds $10,000 or the collective fiscal costs of an item exceed $10,000.
The agency has clearly forgotten about the other environmental implications associated with the bio-tech industry which includes using products containing genetically modified materials.
How can organic farmers seek certification for their products when there could be cross pollination from deregulated GE alfalfa? Think about it. How can a farmer certify that his beef is organic? Or his cows’ milk? How would a farmer know if his cows ate genetically modified alfalfa?
What about the cost of organics? A farmer will have to source or plant a different foraging crop which may cause the cost of organic milk and beef to increase. Will organic dairy and meat farmers be squeezed out of business?
“Preserving market and farmer choice and agricultural diversity are central to USDA’s mission and the future of rural American livelihoods. This failure to do so will make it increasingly difficult to meet the growing demand for U.S. organic crops.”
The Fight is Not Over Until Monsanto Sings
The Center for Food Safety will institute suit regarding this decision. What can you do?
- Sign up to receive action alerts from the Center for Food Safety
- Make a donation to help the legal effort.
- Let the White House know that you are mad as heck, and want your food protected. I sent my email today.
Maybe next time, Mr President, ask what would Michele do?
Join the Conversation
Everyone’s opinion counts here. You are welcomed to agree or disagree with me. Just be polite.
- What are your thoughts about the Administration trumping the USDA?
- What do you think about the future of Organics?
- What do you think will be the outcome of the Center for Food Safety’s fight?
- What do you think about the future of food?