With around 23 million acres, alfalfa is the fourth largest field crop grown in the United States, and is the primary forage crop for dairy cattle. Well, earlier this week, the USDA decided to deregulate the once banned genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa without restriction.
GE alfalfa is approved for Spring planting, for the first time since GE alfalfa was banned in 2007 when the US District Court of Northern California ruled that the USDA needed to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) in order to analyze the impact that GE alfalfa creates for both organic farmers as well as conventional farmers.
What exactly is genetically engineered alfalfa?
GE alfalfa is grown from genetically modified seeds. Most common, are the Roundup Ready seeds from the biotech seed giant, Monsanto. Roundup Ready seeds are genetically modified to be tolerant to glyphosate which is the active ingredient in one of the worlds most popular herbicides, Roundup. Yep you guessed it, Roundup is also a product of Monsanto. The use of Roundup Ready seeds, allows farmers to use the popular herbicide on crops for weed control without killing the crops themselves.
Is there any risk associated to GE alfalfa?
Apparently the USDA doesn’t think so, but opponents of GE alfalfa hold a much different opinion. Some of the more popular fears include:
- Crop contamination: How will organic farmers avoid potential contamination of crops from cross-pollination?
- Increased use of herbicide: Herbicide usage will increase on crops that are immune to Roundup, therefore increasing environmental pollution.
- Increased risk of “superweeds”: Over time, heavy use of herbicide can lead to “superweeds” that are herbicide resistant.
- Seed contamination: Seed contamination is irreversible and could create hardship for organic farmers.
- Health risk: If GE alfalfa is fed to cattle that is raised for either dairy or beef, what is the long term risk to humans that consume the dairy and beef?
- Financial accountability: Who will be accountable to repay organic farmers for crop damage and lost business due to contamination?
So What’s next?
First of all, the deregulation of GE alfalfa is only the first of a few items on the USDA’s list. Watch for another USDA decision soon, this time regarding GE sugarbeets. Genetically engineered wheat and rice are also in the works, so expect to see them hit the market one of these days.
So what can I do?
If you are opposed to GE alfalfa, as well as other GE crops, then please get involved. There are several non-profit groups out there that are working very hard to your interests. Get behind them and strengthen the fight against the genetic engineering of our foods.
- Center for Food Safety
- Organic Consumers Association
- Jeffrey Smith and the Institute for Responsible Technology
- Alliance for Natural Health
What do you think about genetically engineered food? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know.