News that the USDA had approved the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa was greeted with a collective dismay and condemnation by the more than 1,000 attendees from 34 states at the Ecological Farming Association Conference, the largest organic farming conference on the West Coast. “We are appalled by this decision,” said pioneering organic farmer Larry Jacobs, President of Jacobs Farm-Del Cabo. “This is a sad day for the future of the sustainable agriculture.”
Genetic engineering is not allowed under US organic standards. The organic label assures that consumers are not exposed to genetically engineered organisms through their food choices. According to Don Huber Ph.D., emeritus professor at Purdue University, the commercialization of genetically engineered alfalfa could result in the contamination of organic and conventional alfalfa within five years. Such contamination threatens organic markets and diminishes non-contaminated, non-GE seed options for organic producers.
In an official statement yesterday Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, 'After conducting a thorough and transparent examination of alfalfa through a multi-alternative environmental impact statement (EIS) and several public comment opportunities, APHIS has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa.' Alfalfa is the fourth-largest U.S. field crop grown annually on about 23 million acres in the U.S. and is the primary forage crop for dairy production.
“As an organic farmer and an organic dairy processor, the decision to deregulate genetically engineered alfalfa is devastating for our industry and it could put our business at risk,” said Albert Straus, President and owner of Straus Family Creamery. “Since 1994, I’ve been committed to organic principles. We are the first and only dairy brand to achieve Non-GMO Project verification for all of our products.”
“Alfalfa is an essential feed for our dairy cows and provides the essential forage in the diet of organic cows, “ he continued. “With the potential contamination of organic alfalfa, this could significantly harm the organic dairy industry.”
Sustainable food systems advocate Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, agreed with farmers’ concerns. '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.”
EcoFarm President Thomas Wittman added, “The ruling by the USDA Secretary disregards the organic farmers, the dairy industry, and the environment, and I am confident that the decision will be reversed in court.”
The USDA announcement was delivered from the podium at the conference, energizing EcoFarm attendees to mobilize their constituency and question the Obama Administration’s commitment to the health and welfare of the American public.
The Ecological Farming Association (EcoFarm) nurtures healthy and just farms, food systems, communities and environment by bringing people together for education, alliance building and advocacy.