After six years, hundreds of hours of time and thousands of dollars from our cooperative's coffers fighting to stop its release, the USDA fully deregulated Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA), the first perennial genetically modified organism (GMO) on January 27, 2011. Many of us were brought to the table, businesses and non-profits alike, to give the USDA counsel. We brought up key points to the USDA about its negative impacts, such as contamination of seeds and non-GMO crops which would jeopardize the organic and non-GMO multi-billion dollar markets, farmers' property rights, health risks, and a consumer's right to know what is in their food! Unfortunately, we lost this round. The USDA decided to allow the release of RRA with no conditions for the protection of organic and non-GMO crops.
Make no mistake, this precedent opens the door for GMO beets (announced Feb. 4) and 22 other GMO products about to be unleashed on farmers, consumers and the environment, as reported by Reuters on January 20*. This list includes more varieties of pesticide intensive corn and soybeans, cotton, peanuts, roses(!), sugar beets, apples, creeping bentgrass and eucalyptus. This is especially disappointing because research has shown that with only GMO corn, soybeans and cotton on the market, never before have we used so much pesticide in the United States. And biotech is also misleading us by saying genetically modified food can feed the world when the proposed GMO crops are intended for animal feed, ethanol production or other periphery cash crops, not staple food crops.
Clearly, we are all deeply disappointed. But as one wise person said, "the situation is far too serious for pessimism." What, as individuals, can we do now?
First and foremost, we need to face the reality. This is a life long struggle for those citizens, farmers and businesses who are concerned. Be involved, not just for today but for the rest of your life.
Support the legal fights with your dollars. Organic Valley is committed to continue to fund and support legal efforts to challenge the biotech crops. Please help us support the Center for Food Safety's legal actions by making a donation as well.
The Organic Trade Association has set up a place on their website for farmers, consumers or interested citizens to send a message to the White House protesting the USDA's decision. The link is: http://ota.capwiz.com/ota/issues/alert/?alertid=24747501. Comments can also be called or faxed to the following numbers: (202) 456-1111 (phone) or (202) 456-2461 (fax).
We must continue demanding mandatory labeling of GMO food by the USDA. A recent Organic Trade Association survey indicated that 85% of consumers don't want GMO food. We urge you to join us and eaters everywhere in standing up for everyone's right to truthful product information.
Make a commitment to stay informed and seek out information from various sources. Biotech would have you believe they use fewer pesticides. Not true—these GMO crops are designed to resist pesticides in order that more can be used. They would have you believe that they use less water. Again, not true. Non-profit organizations such as the Institute for Responsible Technology, The Organic Center, and the Non-GMO Project have conducted extensive literature reviews of the research—often using the same biotech funded sources and USDA's own communications—and have come away with compelling findings that make us wonder how the USDA can continue saying there's not enough evidence.
Talk to your family, friends and colleagues about these issues. Let's infuse democracy into this issue with dialogues and debates. Let's agree to disagree but continue to talk about it with a unified goal of protecting our farmers and our food in mind. This is too important for "politeness."
Keep the pressure on the USDA by challenging them on each and every GMO release, and more important, challenging the USDA's antiquated regulations—the core basis for the pro-biotech decisions—which are used as an excuse for not thoroughly reviewing GMOs. Demand that other sources besides the biotech funded research must be considered!
For those of us dedicated to organic production and organic philosophy, we will never give up.
Chief Marketing Executive for Organic Valley
Theresa Marquez has been involved in food and farming since the mid 1970s, wearing a variety of hats throughout the past 35 years.
Marquez has served on the Board of Directors of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and The Organic Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to proving the benefits of organic. She has also served on the Oregon Tilth Certification Advisory Board. Marquez has been a guest speaker at numerous events and conferences including Natural Products Expo, National Nutritional Foods Association, American Marketing Association, Organic Trade Association, Food Marketing Institute, and WKKF Foundation. In addition she pioneered the Food Alliance eco-label and is working hard to start a new national tradition—The Earth Dinner.
"As a marketer, I truly enjoy being a catalyst to bring people closer to food, farming and the environment. Besides the obvious benefits of taste and beauty, it is a joy to work and create together for a common goal."
According to a Reuters article published on Jan. 20, the USDA lists 23 pending petitions for deregulation:
USDA says it has deregulated 75 GM products since 1986.