Organic Sense

GM Alfalfa: What's Happening Now

by George L. Siemon, Organic Valley CEO  on January 25, 2011

UPDATE Friday, January 28:

Yesterday, the USDA announced its decision to allow the commercial sale of Roundup Ready® Alfalfa throughout the United States. I personally have been involved in the fight against GMOs for many years and was very disappointed that the biotech industry once again strong-armed their products through the approval process. In 1988, when Organic Valley started, more than 2,000 farmers a week were losing their farms. Today, we are saddened that the industrialization of agriculture is still going on; however, it is important to remember that Organic continues to offer a lifeline to farmers who are choosing to work with Mother Nature rather than trying to change it. We will keep engaging and challenging the USDA in a true and meaningful conversation about coexistence and protection of non-GMO farming. We are counting on our consumers to vote with their dollars and show the USDA that the future of agriculture in America is more than GMO food. Consumers deserve to have a say in the food they consume. Now more than ever, Organic is the best choice.  - George Siemon, founding farmer and C-E-I-E-I-O

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I want to share with the organic and food community my experience and struggle to stop Roundup Ready® Alfalfa (RR-Alfalfa) from being released. This struggle began in 2005 when Monsanto first sought approval, and it is now coming to a head as USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has promised to announce the release of the first perennial Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) by the end of January.

Through this long fight, with the Center for Food Safety in the lead, we successfully blocked the release of RR-Alfalfa. The Supreme Court required the USDA to consider the impact of RR-Alfalfa on other forms of agriculture, including organic and “GMO sensitive” (traditional agriculture not using GMO technology). At heart, the contamination of GMOs on other types of agriculture should be treated as a common sense property rights issue. After all, if you drove into your neighbor’s car, wouldn’t you pay for damages? However, the fact that the USDA even considered the impact of RR-Alfalfa on other forms of agriculture is a big change given the USDA’s usual “rubber stamp” approval with minimal regulatory review of most anything biotech.

One of the USDA’s options is being referred to as the “co-existence” proposal. Co-existence is acknowledging the inevitable—continued dominance of GMO crops—while trying to consider the long-term implications for organic and GMO sensitive markets. Co-existence includes consideration of long-term seed purity and control, compensation funds for lost markets and associated monitoring costs, and input labeling. The biotech industry is against any discussion about co-existence and, of course, is outraged that we would ask for consideration of remuneration of pollution and seed contamination.

The biotech industry has waged a complete war on the Secretary of Agriculture for following the Supreme Court order and for the consideration of a co-existence proposal. They used all their influence to have the Secretary’s job challenged. There here have been op-eds in major papers and magazines (“Sack Vilsack,” Forbes), special meetings with the White House, grilling by the Justice Department, endless lobbying, and on Thursday of last week, a Congressional member forum was held where the Secretary was taken to the wood shed and asked repeatedly why he had not approved RR-alfalfa sooner. All this for simply opening the coexistence conversation and acknowledging that property rights and other markets should be considered.

Predictably, the biotech industry has all angles covered—for example, the organic community tried to get an op-ed published to counter false charges, but the letter was not picked up by a single paper despite our efforts. As a result, the public is left with biotech’s exaggerations and spin with no counter perspective. The resources they have put into this fight convinces me that they are worried about the strength and growth of the organic industry.

There is no doubt now that RR-Alfalfa will be released. It would be a victory if we can, for the first time, get conditions on that release that would give assurance to protect our future seeds, our market and consumer confidence.

Organic agriculture continues to be a beacon of hope. More than ever, we need to face our broken food system and look for models that solve our serious food problems without creating new problems. Organic offers us the solutions we need for a healthy future for all.

In the face of ongoing approval of GMOs, we need to work together to educate consumers to choose organic and vote with their dollar for food they can trust.

In Cooperation,

George L. Siemon


George Siemon is C-E-I-E-I-O of the nation’s largest organic, farmer-owned cooperative, Organic Valley. Organic Valley is committed to tirelessly working for their mission of spreading the value of organic farming to answer so many concerns of a sustainable future.

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Comments

Dawn from from Hoboken on June 14, 2012 at 02:57:23 PM
Dear Mr. Siemon,

i sincerely hope that you're true intent is to keep your products GM free for so long as you own this company and for so long as it produces organic products.

i implore you to not be swayed by these deceitful bureaucrats that are killing the U.S. ppl already with their vaccinations and GM organisms.

pls with all your heart be honest so that you can go to sleep at night with a clear conscience...ppl love your company and rely on your honesty and the purity of your products...

i realize these mega rich eliteist douche bags are greedy beyond human conception but enough ppl will buy your products to keep you and your decedents rich for a long time to come if you keep your products pure...

thank you for listening

Thank you
Mary from from Toms River, NJ on May 24, 2012 at 07:03:07 PM
I am just recently becoming aware of the treatment of our food supply at the various production levels. Very disheartening, to say the lease. If more people new the details I am sure they would be reaching out for Organic products. Unfortunately convenience, greed and ignorance direct to many of our decisions this day in age. Society needs a wake up call, the snooze button will only work for so long.
Edyne from from Santa Fe, NM on January 31, 2012 at 12:38:02 PM
News of your surrender to Monsanto is very disappointing. May make me change my favoring your brand on the shelf
Tracy at Organic Valley

Hi Edyne,

We've never "surrendered" to Monsanto! We've always been opposed to GMOs, and in fact have been one of the organizations fighting in Washington DC to keep them from being deregulated. Unfortunately, we haven't been very successful, but we continue to fight.  We're still doing what we've always done (which does not include "surrendering" to Monsanto)

C.E. from from Paris, France on January 25, 2012 at 01:26:38 PM
Merci for your kind attention regarding this new information. These sellers are now history as far as my family in the states is concerned.
Raina from on October 28, 2011 at 09:44:39 AM
Don't give in. You and I and everyone educated on this issue knows there is no co-existence option. Co-existence is death to organics. We cannot control the wind, rain and animals that will cross pollinate crops. Continue fighting and have the approval of alfalfa reversed. Advertise--you have lots of money. Make commercials asking Americans to demand gmo labeling. If everyone demands it then the labeling will reduce purchases, drive down demand and change the system just like in Europe. The little organic guy cant fight because he has no money--YOU CAN. Start running ads asking Americans to DEMAND GMO LABELING.
Kristin Wooten from from Ohio on May 30, 2011 at 03:16:36 PM
Thank you for continuing the fight against GMOs...I am so thankful for companies and farmers that provide safe food and maintain good environmental practices. Besides buying organic whenever possible, how can I help in the fight against GMOs?
Sherie from from Ypsilanti, MI on April 24, 2011 at 09:42:14 AM
Are there any activist groups out their getting petitions signed if which avenue should one take to set it off to the right department.
Jamie Johnson at Organic Valley

Hi Sherrie,
Please check out the Center for Food Safety. They are very involved and effective in fighting GMOs and are an organization that Organic Valley has been supporting for years. The Center for Food Safety accepts donations and will keep you posted if there are any actions that you can take to speak out against the deregulation of GMOs.

Cyndy from from Scottsdale, AZ on April 2, 2011 at 09:22:36 AM
For consumers to believe the lie that OV has betrayed them gives Monsanto a double victory. How unfortunate that OCA has distorted the truth. My thanks to OV for continuing to fight on behalf of organic consumers.
rachel from from detroit, michigan on February 18, 2011 at 12:47:48 PM
Since organic valley is allowing co-existence with GM crops, who can we trust with good clean food? Is there any good brand out there anymore?
Angie Bernstein at Organic Valley

Hi Rachel, Organic Valley is NOT "allowing" co-existence. We have no control over the USDA's decision to deregulate. And we are supporting the efforts of the Center for Food Safety to fight the release. However, no matter what happens with GM alfalfa, we will maintain our farming and our foods according to organic standards, which means NO GM CROPS. We will just have to work harder to find solutions to protect our organic sources and keep organic organic!

Janice from from Washington Maine on February 14, 2011 at 12:34:22 PM
I will be watching what is going on. I am not in favor of Co-existing crops. I hope that your company will label if there the products you sell are compromised by GMO by products. I want to know what I am buying. I am willing to pay the extra cost for organic food for my family consumption, I am not will to pay the extra money for products that I am not confident in and may be have GMO by products. Because you are going along with this "compromise" of " co-existence" I have to rethink what I am willing to invest my money in. I will be looking for more local outlets for my food purchases. I know that I and many people who care what we consume feel betrayed by the companies we thought was safe as an outlet for our organic food. It is very disappointing that Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farms have decided to surrender to Monsanto. Who can we trust?
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