Obama Administration Allows Unrestricted Planting of GMO Alfalfa. Bye-Bye Organic Milk and Beef

Hay, Obama!

Hay, Obama!

On Thursday, the Obama administration showed whose side it is on in the battle between proponents of sustainable, organic agriculture and the big businesses that profit from conventional, chemical agriculture. Big Ag won. It wasn’t even close.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) had approved the unrestricted planting of genetically modified alfalfa sold by Monsanto Co. and Forge Genetics, despite protests from organic groups and public health advocates and comments from nearly 250,000 citizens asking the department to keep this GMO genie in its bottle.

If you eat meat or dairy, you indirectly consume alfalfa. It is a leading source of hay for cattle. In terms of acreage, alfalfa is the United States’ fourth biggest crop behind corn, soybeans, and wheat. It is also notoriously promiscuous, and its pollen can be carried by bees and other insects for five miles, making it all but certain that the GMO crop, designed to survive applications of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, will contaminate much of the country’s conventional alfalfa. Because GMO products are not allowed in USDA certified foods, it could become all but impossible to produce organic milk and meat in many areas unless organic farmers switch to less desirable sources of forage.

Earlier, the USDA said that it was weighing three options: (1) complete deregulation of GM alfalfa; (2) allowing it to be planted but requiring five-mile buffers between it and non-GM alfalfa; and (3)allowing unrestricted planting except in regions  where alfalfa seed is grown. Vilsack went for the first: the most Big-Ag-friendly choice.

“This is very disappointing,” said Will Fantle, co-director of the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, an organic and small-farm watchdog group that is a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought against the USDA claiming that it did not take the required legal steps before originally approving GM alfalfa in 2007. “Tens of thousands of people spoke out against this contamination,” Fantle said. “They were completely ignored. It looks like the biotech industry has all the political power.”

“This creates a perplexing situation when the market calls for a supply of crops free of genetic engineering,” said Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association in a press release. “The organic standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, and consumers will not tolerate the accidental presence of genetic engineered materials in organic products, yet GE crops continue to proliferate unchecked.”

Widespread application of Roundup, Monsanto’s trade name for the weed-killing chemical called glyphosate, has already led to the proliferation of “superweeds” that have mutated and can survive applications of the chemical. Currently, Australia ranks first in the world for weed resistance to herbicides. Speaking to a farmers’ group in January, Stephen Powles, a renowned resistance expert at the University of Western Australia, warned that the United States might overtake his country if present trends continue. Obama’s decision makes it all but certain that the dubious honor will soon be ours.

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13 comments

  1. Joyce says:

    Monsanto may have just destroyed their business for the next century. GMOs don’t mean not organic, it just means that you use genes to do the work in a …single generation of what breeding took ten generations to do. There are Frankensteinian exceptions, but for the most part GMOs are actually exactly what farmers were going to get naturally, they just spend less money and time. Second, I notice that the article says that bees carry pollen up to five miles. Now, if Monsanto doesn’t want their trademark gene to be carried to every farmer in the US, they need to kill all pollinators and destroy agriculture as we know it. If anything Big Ag loses hard in this situation, as far as I can tell… If I’m wrong feel free to politely contradict me, but if anything I think Monsanto is going to tank if they aren’t very careful.

  2. Dr. Mattson, DC, MSACN says:

    Joyce,

    To respond to your post…in short GMO crops are designed to be used only with Round-up ready herbicides so the farmers that do buy these crops such these sprays…double the cash in hand for Monsanto. GMO’s are also designed by essentially inserting a virus into a gene to transplant another gene inside it from another organism…farmers could never do this by generation breeding. This is why GMO’s will never be organic even if a farmer doesn’t use the round-up on the crops. Although many of these seeds won’t even germinate without the sprays as they were ‘designed’ this way. Farmers have to buy new seeds every year as well because the seeds out of these plants are designed to be sterile (more money in the pocket of Monsanto…genius business move). One of the scariest parts as well is the highly resistant weeds…how do we remedy the implications of using these herbicides…by making the herbicides more potent? By increasing the dosages put on the crops? It is no secret that chemicals are turning up in our foods from the field and having implications in our health and the environment. Monsanto will do no such efforts to maintain their seed does not spread…in fact it has done very well by them to let it spread as far as possible. When their team of investigators for finds their seed in another farmer’s fields they sue the farmer for patent infringement. Sadly, this is now a common occurrence, so you are better off buying Monsanto’s seed instead of saving your own because it may cost you the farm.

    A great movie to watch that shows the dangers of GM crops is “The Future of Food”.

    I apologize if my tone was less than polite in some instances…it is only because I am aggravated this was passed by the Obama administration and veil of the true under-workings that are obviously present between the government and special interest groups at the expense of the nation’s well-being.

  3. Barry says:

    Thanks Joyce and Dr. Matson. Joyce, sorry I didn’t reply directly. I was traveling. Great comment and great reply. Can’t add anything. Barry

  4. Beate Epp says:

    Thanks so much to Dr. Mattson!! After reading Joyce’s comment, I thought exactly of what you were writing, then scrolled down and saw your response. Thanks so much for this!

    My husband and I are certified organic farmers in Saskatchewan, Canada, and sometimes feel like a small island in the big pool of commerical farmers around us. It is quite scary…

    For too many years, farmers have been told by the government and chemical and seed companies what’s the best to do, to get bigger and bigger, buy bigger and more expensive equipment, get more into debt. And to produce more and more on their land, they were told to use specific kind of seeds, and specific chemicals, fertilizers, and herbicides. In the end, they were/are totally dependend on all of these products, or at least they think they are. Farmers think they cannot farm and produce a good yield without all this…

    They just believe everything they get told, just like many of the average consumer… sadly…

    Yes, we have buffer zones, and we have to get our crop tested, especially flax, before we are able to sell it. We have to get it double and triple tested at times, to make sure its free of GMO… It is scary…

    We do our best and will continue to do so, and we are rewarded with a great and healthy crop, getting almost better by the year. We work together with the earth, feel the energy changing, and a great connection with everything around us. And yes, it may be a drop for some people, but to refer to the old ‘star fish story’, each one counts and makes a difference… for us, for the ones who eat our food, and for the earth…

    Blessings :)

  5. Matt G., CEC says:

    Despite which side of the scientific argument (GM) you’re on, this issue highlights the power of the lobby in Washington, and conversely the lack of voice of the concerned consumer. BIG ag, BIG tobacco, BIG oil, the ‘BIGS’ will almost always win in Washington, because money talks in Washington.

    I say: don’t get defeatist; take a stand for your position. Buy the products you want to buy and make an educated consumer out of yourself and your community. Study up to figure out what you want on your dinner plate and make the best possible choices.

    Support your local growers, farmers, and foragers. I’d rather eat an apple from my neighbor, than a certified-organic one from Chile. Don’t blame the government, I don’t rely on them to tell me what’s best for me and my family.

  6. I do not like this. President Obama should not have approved this because the world doesn’t need more GMO food out there it needs more ORGANIC and local farming. While not being sprayed by pesticides and other harmful chemicals that can harm a person’s body.

    This is WRONG.
    Monsanto is the worst of it all making the pesticides and allowing them to kill us people on the inside. Stop it Now

  7. Jacqueline says:

    Anyone who did even the slightest research on Vilsack would have seen this coming. Yes we did, we got Vilsack who’s been a friend of Big Ag for a long, well-documented time. It’s horrendous and I’m afraid, showing Obama’s true nature.

  8. Barry says:

    Hi, Jacqueline. I’m trying to keep a running tally of Big Ag pals in the Obama administration. Here is my list: http://politicsoftheplate.com/?p=561. Any additions are welcome. Barry.

  9. Dr. Ricky says:

    I’m afraid Dr. Mattson has his science wrong (that is pretty evident from a poor wording not understanding the difference between gene and virus). Farmers can, and do transfer traits through generational breeding, they just can’t attain the efficiency of recombinant DNA technology in time. Horizontal gene transfer is rampant in nature, and modern methods of genetic engineering simply domesticate these processes – which are natural.

    Then again, the difference is really arbitrary. The problem doesn’t reside on the issue of GMOs, but on the rather arbitrary definition of “organic”. The GMO alfalfa isn’t consumed by humans directly, how people define what is organic, and how the brand has somehow coopted the image of healthful living, doesn’t stand up to scientific definition or scrutiny.

    I am not commenting on whether or not Big Ag has intimate ties with the government; no doubt lobbying has effects on how rules are created, but in this case, I side with the decision of Sec. Vilsack. The opposition to planting of GMO crops does not have a scientific basis, and is therefore infeasible to regulate.

    BTW, to the commenters who think the world needs more (expensive) “organic” farming – are you aware that we are in the midst of a world food shortage crisis?

  10. Bushel Bob says:

    GMO sometimes sees the artificial introduction of an animal gene to the genetic makeup of a plant so that not only is it not organic, it isn’t even vegetarian.

  11. Bushel Bob says:

    Also, a world food distribution crisis, exacerbated by wars and confiscating war lords, is not the same as a world food crisis. More than enough food is grown to feed the world if governments would get out of the way.

  12. Jack Dick says:

    Please read the research that has raised very scary information on the dangers of GMO’s.

    Then try to think of what could transpire if we have no non GMO seeds left.

    We are letting Monsanto control our food, does anyone really believe Big Business should be able to do that.

    We think there is hunger in the world now. Wake up and look at the evidence please do not rely only on the government to take care of your future, get involved. This is everyone’s life and future.

  13. jeena says:

    I have switched to drinking coconut milk more than I drink cow’s milk, and I have been off beef for years, now I will only consume coconut milk, the cow’s milk will stay on the shelf.

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