Yesterday’s announcement by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that it will once again allow unlimited, nation-wide commercial planting of Monsanto’s genetically-engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa, despite the many risks to organic and conventional farmers, is deeply disturbing, but not surprising.
For the past four years, there has been a ban on the planting and sale of GE alfalfa, as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Food Safety (on behalf of farmers) against USDA. In 2007, a federal court ruled that the USDA’s approval of GE alfalfa violated environmental laws by failing to analyze risks such as the contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa, the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and increased use of glyphosate herbicide, sold by Monsanto as Roundup. The Court banned new plantings of GE alfalfa until USDA completed a more comprehensive assessment of these impacts via an environmental impact statement (EIS). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals twice affirmed the national ban on GE alfalfa planting. In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Alfalfa until and unless future deregulation occurs.
Last spring more than 200,000 people submitted comments to the USDA highly critical of the substance and conclusions of its draft EIS on GE Alfalfa. Instead of responding to these comments and concerns, including expert comments from farmers, scientists, academics, conservationists, and food safety and consumer advocates, the USDA has chosen instead to listen to a handful of agricultural biotechnology companies.
USDA’s decision to allow unlimited, nation-wide commercial planting of Monsanto’s GE Roundup Ready alfalfa without any restrictions flies in the face of the interests of conventional and organic farmers, preservation of the environment, and consumer choice. USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment. CFS will be suing on this decision, and we anticipate we’ll have to litigate on GE sugar beets and other pending approvals as well.
In the aftermath of USDA’s decision on GE alfalfa, some are harshly criticizing organic companies that favored a compromise. But make no mistake. USDA’s final decision is only supported by agricultural biotech companies – not organic food companies such as Stonyfield Farm or Whole Foods – but by Monsanto and the other biotech companies that produce and sell GE alfalfa. While the Center for Food Safety and other advocacy groups may have some differences with the position originally taken by some organic food companies, these companies are not the enemy.
In the coming months, we will be seeing USDA proposals to allow unrestricted plantings of GE sugar beets, and GE corn and soy crops designed to resist toxic pesticides such as 2-4D and Dicamba, highly toxic pesticides that pose a serious threat to our health and the environment. To win these critical and difficult battles, the entire organic community, and our allies in the conventional food and farming community, will have to work together. Now is not the time for organic infighting, but rather a time for us to come together to fight a common enemy and work to protect our farms, our food, and our environment.