Consumers and farmers practicing sustainable, organic methods are facing another battle: genetically engineered alfalfa will make its way into farmers fields unless the public actively weighs in against its deregulation. After years of fighting for the deregulation of its genetically engineered, Roundup-ready Alfalfa, Monsanto may be granted its wish as the USDA is considering deregulation of the crop. The USDA has opened up a public comment period, which ends on Tuesday, February 16th – so now is the time to vocalize your feelings regarding the continuation of genetic engineering and of Roundup-ready Alfalfa in particular.
Genetically-engineered Alfalfa: A History Lesson
Without adequate research into the environmental and health concerns surrounding the introduction of genetically engineered alfalfa and without adequate public input, the USDA approved the crop. In 2006, the Center for Food Safety coupled with other organizations that include the Sierra Club, the Cornucopia Institute, Western Organization of Resource Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, Dakota Resource Council as well as alfalfa producers filed suit in California against the USDA requesting that the court rescind the deregulation of genetically engineered alfalfa until such a time as the USDA could fully and adequately analyze the potential effects posed by the introduction of the new, genetically engineered crop. In 2007, these organizations won their lawsuit, and, in response to the court order, the USDA was forced to take a step back and better analyze Roundup® Ready alfalfa’s effects on the environment, farmers and the public at large. The resulting Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is now available and the technical documents associated with the case and with genetically engineered alfalfa are available for public view on the USDA’s website.
Genetically-engineered Alfalfa: Environmental and Economic Risks
The nature of plants is to expand, and alfalfa (genetically engineered or not) is no different. The introduction and use of genetically engineered alfalfa poses a risk of cross-contamination to cultivated, organic and wild varieties of alfalfa meaning that the transgenese found in the patented, genetically engineered crop could very well find themselves in organic crops and eventually all alfalfa crops. Moreover, Roundup® Ready alfalfa is genetically engineered to withstand massive doses of herbicide which poses environmental risks of its own – the increased use of herbicide poses a risk to watersheds including the drinking water of farming communities. That said, more than 80% of alfalfa is currently grown without herbicides making the introduction of an alfalfa crop genetically engineered to withstand large doses of Roundup® unnecessary. The introduction of the genetically engineered crop will likely increase the use of herbicides as more and more weeds grow resistant to Roundup®, requiring heavier and heavier doses of more carcinogenic herbicides. In many ways, it’s a vicious cycle: the more you use, the more you need to use.
The introduction of genetically engineered alfalfa poses economic risks as well. US farmers export several hundred million dollars of alfalfa to foreign countries each year – particularly Korea and Japan, both of which have expressed a deep-seated concern over genetic engineering and GE contamination. As a result, by introducing and cultivating genetically engineered alfalfa, US farmers risk losing a lucrative foreign market for their products.
Lastly, alfalfa is pollinated by bees which increases the risk of cross-contamination among genetically engineered crops with conventionally grown crops, organic crops and even wild varieties. As alfalfa is primarily used as feed for dairy and beef cattle, the introduction of genetically engineered alfalfa poses a very real risk to the consumer’s ability to continue to source clean foods free of contamination.
Genetically-engineered Alfalfa and the Rights of Small Farmers
Proponents of genetically-engineered alfalfa indicate that deregulation of the crop would only serve to protect the rights of farmers to choose to plant Roundup® Ready alfalfa; yet, when that Roundup® Ready alfalfa contaminates the fields of a farmer who has no intention of growing the crop, they might well be subject to lawsuit for patent violation by Monsanto, the company responsible for engineering Roundup® Ready alfalfa and other genetically engineered crops. Indeed, the deregulation of genetically-engineered alfalfa will more accurately limit the rights of farmers to grow the crops of their choosing.
Time to Act on Genetically-engineered Alfalfa
The USDA is currently seeking public comment regarding the deregulation of genetically-engineered alfalfa through February 16th, so now is your opportunity to express your opinion regarding the deregulation of this crop. It is my firm opinion that deregulation of genetically-engineered alfalfa poses a great risk to consumer freedom, the environment, sustainable farming and the growing market for clean and wholesome meat and milk products. For information about submitting your comment to the USDA regarding the deregulation of genetically engineered alfalfa, visit the USDA or submit your comment online by visiting Regulations.gov.
Remember, you need to act now.