06 February 2011

Genetically Engineered Alfalfa: why the USDA's full deregulation was a bad decision

Two weeks ago, the USDA announced a total deregulation of Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa. Contact USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack (202-720-3631 or email*) and President Barack Obama (email him through this form) to let them know this was the wrong decision--one that puts our food chain, our economy, and our environment at risk.

More about the ruling
In 2005, the USDA approved Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa seeds. When farmers, environmentalists, and more people who eat sued the USDA in 2006 to take back its approval, Monsanto stepped in on behalf of the US government. After US District Courts ruled against Monsanto and its GE alfalfa seeds, the company appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

When the case reached the Supreme Court last summer, it became the court's first ruling on a genetically engineered crop. In a 7 to 1 majority, justices ruled not to uphold the lower court's decision. The only justice that agreed with the lower court's ban on the genetically engineered alfalfa seeds was John Paul Stevens who retired eight days after the ruling.

On Jan. 27, 2011--just the week before last--USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a full deregulation of Monsanto's GE alfalfa seeds. That means the GE seeds could be in the ground as early as this spring. CommonDreams.org reports that Land O' Lakes already has millions of pounds of Monsanto's GE alfalfa seeds in storage.

More about alfalfa
Alfalfa is among America's top four crops. Mostly used to feed farm animals like cows and poultry--but particularly dairy cattle (hmm...Land O'Lakes' stash sadly makes more sense now)--alfalfa is a basic part of the bottom of our food chain, whether we're choosing to eat organic or not.

Rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, alfalfa is good for the animals we can choose to eat or eat from, but it's also an important cover crop. Being a legume, alfalfa can fix soil nitrogen levels, suppress weeds, and reduce pests and diseases. Whether or not you eat the animals (or their products), chances are alfalfa is still a necessary part of the process that brings even veggies to the table.

Alfalfa is pollinated by a particular type of bee (who have their own set of problems in these modern days both here and abroad). Just as bees fly and the wind blows, alfalfa will travel. And when it does, it can contaminate other fields of alfalfa, whether they're farmed organically or conventionally. Even if a farmer chooses not to plant Monsanto's GE alfalfa, his or her fields could be contaminated with genetically engineered DNA. It's hard to believe that the USDA made this ruling without knowing about the aggressive ways Monsanto pursues farmers whose fields have been invaded by their genetically engineered seed.

More about GE alfalfa's effects
Beyond the environmental risks that GE alfalfa poses--poisoning of soil and ground water, the development of "super weeds," harmful effects on bees and other wildlife--producing food with GE alfalfa brings economic risk domestically and internationally.

Already the European Union refuses to buy genetically modified foods...if milk, meat, and veg are produced through use of the GE alfalfa, exports will suffer and so will the economy of the nation that allows genetically engineered alfalfa.

Here at home, even Monsanto would have to admit that organic and all-natural foods are a large and still increasing sector of our American economy. Genetically modified crops and feed are banned in organic production. When alfalfa crops are contaminated with genetically engineered DNA, they become ineligible for organic production...and since alfalfa is grown in such quantities and has such a sweeping portion of the base of our food chain, the introduction of GE seeds puts even organic foods at great risk.

The bottom line
We still don't know what happens to humans who eat genetically engineered foods or foods produced with genetically engineered products.

Allowing genetically modified alfalfa seeds to be planted starts detrimental environmental, economic, and food chain changes that we cannot anticipate or regulate.

Contact USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack (202-720-3631 or email*) and President Barack Obama (email him through this form) to let them know that the USDA's deregulation of Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa seeds was the wrong decision--one that puts our food chain, our economy, and our environment at risk.

* The link to USDA Secretary Vilsack's email contact form was broken at the time of publishing. If you find an email contact for him, please share it in the comments section.

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