organic alfalfa is in jeopardy of cross pollination from the newly deregulated GM alfalfa

Attorneys for the Center for Food Safety and the non-profit environmental law firm, Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit against the USDA last week challenging their January 27 decision to deregulate genetically modified alfalfa.

This marks the second case against the USDA’s lack of restrictions on GM alfalfa. The Center for Food Safety along with other agencies and organizations sued the USDA last year, taking the case to the Supreme Court after the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) moved towards deregulating the Monsanto Roundup Ready GM alfalfa. A 7-1 decision lifted the ban on GM alfalfa but directed the USDA to conduct a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS).

Among the plaintiffs in this new suit are organic and sustainable farming advocates opposed to Monsanto’s GM alfalfa, which is engineered to withstand the toxic herbicide, glyphosate, commonly marketed as Roundup. The plaintiffs have concerns that because alfalfa hay is one of the most common crops grown in the U.S., both crop drift and bees could cross-pollinate, contaminating non-GMO alfalfa with genetically modified seeds.

The defending biotech companies along with certain members of Congress strongly objected to the partial deregulation option considered by the USDA, based on their EIS, which they claim proved the engineered alfalfa was safe. But, the effects of GM alfalfa directly affect the organic industry, mainly dairy producers, who supply their cows with organic alfalfa hay in order to maintain organic certification. Transgenic contamination could be a devastating blow to the $20 billion organic dairy products industry.

USDA Secretary Vilsack had urged “coexistence,” proffering options he hoped would appease the biotech industry and the organic community. But in late January he approved the deregulation without any conditions geared towards supporting organic farmers.

“Approving the unrestricted planting of GE alfalfa is a blatant case of the USDA serving one form of agriculture at the expense of all others,” one plaintiff, Ed Maltby, Executive Director of the Northeast Alliance of Organic Dairy Producers, said in a news release. “If this decision is not remedied, the result will be lost livelihoods for organic dairy farmers, loss of choice for farmers and consumers, and no transparency about GE contamination of our foods.”

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Photo: Tony the Misfit