GM alfalfa now has the support of organic leaders

In a surprising attack on three well known organic brands, the Organic Consumer’s Association and the Agriculture Society reported that the named brands gave a supportive nod to what they’re calling “the conditional deregulation” of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa. The nation’s first certified organic retail chain, Whole Foods—who has a storewide policy banning the sale of GM foods—along with the largest organic yogurt brand, Stonyfield Yogurt, and Organic Valley, the largest co-op of organic meat, egg and dairy farmers issued their formal denial of claims that they support the deregulation of GM alfalfa.

The accusations may have come as a result of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s friendships with individuals in the organic organizations. He received financial backing from many leaders in the natural foods industry during his run for president in the 2008 primaries and has developed what are being called “personal relationships” with individuals in the organizations.

Vilsack had asked both sides of the GM debate to open themselves to cooperative discussion in a recent letter calling for “coexistence”, and spoke on the subject at the first congressional agricultural committee meeting earlier this month reiterating the agency’s opinion that the Round-up Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred seeds.

In a statement released on Whole Foods’ Web site earlier today, the retailer says, “Join us in telling Washington we do not agree with their damaging decision to approve the unrestricted planting of GE alfalfa and that they need to protect our right to choose products free of genetic engineering.”

Stonyfield Yogurt founder, Gary Hirschberg, also responded to accusations his organization supports GM alfalfa saying, “Not once did Stonyfield consider buying what Monsanto was selling – nor will we ever. We have never wavered from our position in defending organic and opposing GE crops.”

Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and featured expert in the Oscar nominated film Food Inc said, “It’s hard to understand why the Obama administration would put the organic industry at risk for the sake of an unnecessary and soon-to-be obsolete product like Round-up Ready alfalfa. This is a bad solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, since 93 percent of alfalfa hay is grown without any herbicide at all.”

The Non-GMO Project also released a statement countering accusations from the Organic Consumer’s Association, which called the Non GMO Project a ‘greenwashing effort.’ Founder Megan Westgate said, “Because of the Non-GMO Project, hundreds of farmers, processors and manufacturers across North America are learning how to control GMO contamination as much as is possible, and consumers are finally being given an informed choice.”

Secretary Vilsack reviewed the research conducted on GM alfalfa and listened to arguments on both sides of the debate, concluding that, “After conducting a thorough and transparent examination of alfalfa through a multi-alternative environmental impact statement (EIS) and several public comment opportunities, APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa.”

Among a sea of consumer watchdog groups, Washington state’s The Organic Seed Alliance, a plaintiff in the suit filed against the USDA, are concerned this decision by Vilsack will open the door for deregulation on GM sugar beets, another controversial crop, among others, putting organic seeds–and the organic industry in jeopardy.

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Photo: Stevendamron