In case you haven't heard the news, the Obama Administration last week deregulated Monsanto Round-Up Ready alfalfa, a blow both to organic and conventional farmers as well as to the Administration's reputation as supportive of small farmers and food system reform. Many researchers fear that transgenes from GMO alfalfa will contaminate conventional and organic alfalfa fields. For the conventional growers, contamination will shut them out of the export market, much of which won't accept GMO crops. For organic dairy and beef farmers, contamination of alfalfa will make it difficult to find GMO-free feed, as required under organic rules. USDA Secretary Vilsack had floated a "co-existence plan" requiring geographic buffers between fields planted with GMO alfalfa and conventional or organic fields, but the compromise was reportedly overruled by the White House.
In my view, Round-Up Ready alfalfa is a bad solution to a non-existent problem. Alfalfa is a perennial grass that doesn't suffer from serious weed problems. In fact, ninety-three percent of alfalfa fields receive no herbicide at all. Which I suppose is fortunate for any farmers who plant GMO alfalfa, since Round-up itself is well on its way to obsolescence, as weeds resistant to the herbicide proliferate around the country; I'm told that farmers in Iowa are already having to resort to hand-weeding to control weeds that no longer respond. So why is the Administration willing to risk damage to both organic and conventional agriculture to promote such an unnecessary product?
Ask President Obama.
In announcing the decision, Secretary Vilsack also announced a $1 million study to look at "gene flow"-- an implicit acknowledgment that we don't know enough about the risks of GMO alfalfa. You would think the Administration would want to conduct such a study before releasing GMO alfalfa, not after. Now, the Federal courts will now a chance to explore that question.
For more information, check out the website of the Center for Food Safety, which has been leading the legal battle with some success (and vows to continue to fight in court):
and Food Democracy Now! in Iowa which has, also with success, been organizing the grassroots:
PS: On a somewhat sunnier note, I'm appearing as a guest on Oprah Tuesday, February first, talking mostly about meat-eating. The other guests are a vegan and a plant manager from Cargill Meat Solutions, which allowed a crew from Oprah to film inside a slaughterhouse. I hope you'll tune in.