(Beyond Pesticides, January 20, 2011) Beyond Pesticides and the National Organic Coalition (NOC) are encouraging their members to contact President Obama and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and tell them not to approve (or not deregulate) Monsantoâ€™s â€śRoundUp Ready,â€ť genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa, which contributes to genetic drift, superweeds, and the use of a hazardous herbicide glyphosate. In December, USDA completed its environmental impact statement (EIS) of GE alfalfa. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has rejected the option to prohibit the planting (and continuing to regulate) GE Alfalfa, despite the clear recognition in the EIS that that GE contamination of organic and conventionally grown crops presents a huge problem.
USDA released its 2,400 page EIS as required by a 2007 Federal District Court decision and upheld by both 2009 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and June 2010 U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The litigation was led by the Center for Food Safety, and joined by Beyond Pesticides, and other groups, including conventional and organic seed companies and producers. Three alternatives are considered during the preparation of the final EIS: 1) to maintain the RR alfalfaâ€™s status as a regulated article; 2) to deregulate RR alfalfa; or 3) to deregulate RR alfalfa with geographic restrictions and isolation distances for the production of RR alfalfa.
A broad coalition of groups has called for USDA to deny approval of GE alfalfa. More than 300 public interest organizations, farmers, dairies, retailers and organic food producers from the U.S. and Canada delivered a critical letter to USDA. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), joined by 49 other Representatives and five other Senators, also sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack asking USDA to retain the regulated status of GE alfalfa. Despite the public outcry, USDA has indicated that it favors some form of deregulation.
Industry representatives indicated at a meeting with Secretary Vilsack on December 20, 2010 attended by Beyond Pesticides, that they want USDA to approve the GE alfalfa in time for spring planting. Its authorization ignores on-the-ground realities that are likely to lead to widespread GE cross-pollination and contamination of organic and non-GE crops, corruption of seed supplies, and protracted economic injury to farmers and markets.
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.
Organic standards do not allow the use of GE crops, including for animal feed. The purity of organic milk from alfalfa-fed dairy cows is a major concern. Milk is a primary entry product and mainstay for many U.S. consumers in the organic market and GE contamination would cause severe economic injury to farmers, devastating the viability and integrity of the organic label. There are also test-verified GE-free domestic and world markets in Asia and Europe that would stop buying from US farmers whose crops are contaminated by GE alfalfa.
Despite three District Court rulings and a landmark Supreme Court decision that makes planting GE alfalfa illegal and requires USDA to formulate a valid management plan, the agency is going full steam ahead, putting the deregulation or partial deregulation, of GE alfalfa on a fast track. While conceding for the first time that GE contamination of organic and GE-free crops and markets is a major problem in the U.S., USDA’s court-ordered EIS relies on faulty data and fails to take into account the scientifically-validated promiscuous nature of GE gene flow in crops. It also overlooks the widespread corruption of conventional seed varieties by GE strains (such as occurred with StarLink corn and LibertyLink rice) along with documented severe economic injury to farmers and markets. And, there is no mention at all of possible health consequences from eating GM crops.
USDA has not shown that contamination-free coexistence with deregulated GE alfalfa is likely or possible. USDA’s EIS fails to take into account the documented increase in Roundup-resistant “super weeds” that is requiring the use of highly toxic herbicide cocktails for weed control on conventional farms. Monsanto is in a rush to spread GE alfalfa while the patent protections on its exclusive manufacture of Roundup expire in 2014. And, GE alfalfa is the all-important test case – waiting in the wings is an immediate decision on how to handle a lawsuit prohibiting GE sugar beets as well as a list of other GE crops coming along in the biotech pipeline.
Take Action – Call or email President Obama and USDA and tell them NOT to deregulate GE alfalfa
Please send your own comments (see suggested language below) and notify your networks, listserves, faith organizations, etc. and post on your website, urging other people/organizations to comment.
Suggested Language (add in your own):
“I am ___________, a farmer/citizen in (your state). Please do not to allow the commercial release of GE alfalfa. Before any release can happen, there must be independent scientific evaluation of public health, environmental, and economic consequences of that release, ongoing government oversight and protection, and a plan for compensation of those harmed by accidental contamination.”
Organization, Concerned Citizen, etc.
Comment line: (202) 456-1111
Fax: (202) 456-2461
or call (301) 851-2300 and record your comments