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


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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Judith Grimmer from from Sedona, Arizona on February 8, 2011 at 09:41:53 PM
Please post your article on Facebook as there was an article stating Organic Valley executives along with other companies that once were or possibly still are organic deal with Whole Foods have now agreed to use Genetically Engineered seeds by Monsanto...I just don't want to believe this is true. Your article above needs to be posted on Facebook to clear the air for those of us who believe we need to stand up for our rights of organic farming. We need to spread your news now because others may think differently. Thank you. Judith "Judy" Grimmer, Sedona, AZ.
Donna from from North Carolina on February 6, 2011 at 05:14:47 AM
I have read on that your company has surrendered to Monsanto's Genetically modified foods.
Is this true? And why if you did?
Angie at Organic Valley

Hi Donna,

Please read our rebuttal to the original article, posted by Ronnie Cummins of the OCA, which misrepresented our stand and actions on GE alfalfa.

We did not surrender to Monsanto; we had no discussions with them at all. We have been fighting, supporting Center for Food Safety in legal actions, and encouraging our readers/customers to speak out to maintain the ban against RR Alfalfa since it was first considered several years ago. Ultimately, our cooperative had no power over whether the GM product was approved. When the USDA made it clear that a complete ban was not an option - ie, that they were going to deregulate one way or another -- our CEO George Siemon made a request that restrictions be included, such as planting restrictions and other protections for organic and non-gmo farmers. We encouraged our fans to write the government in support of this as well. Unfortunately, the USDA's final decision did not include any restrictions or considerations.

We are a cooperative representing about 1600 farms ranging from very small to medium in size. We are a significant part of the organic world, but in the overall US agriculture landscape, we are still very small -- and the world of chemical-based agribusiness is large and influential. The USDA decision was disappointing, and it was further disheartening to have the organic community torn apart by misconceptions about us "giving in" and somehow condoning this decision. This is a time when more than ever we need to stand united to protect organic agriculture and keep it growing for a sustainable future of healthy food, water, soil and air.

Linda from from North Carolina on February 4, 2011 at 09:34:02 AM

I truly hope that you are sincere in your words. Your company's name was brought up, along with Whole Foods and Stonyfield, as being the "Big 3" who are for co-existance with Monstanto and GMOs. If what you write if just spin for consumer consumption, I will, once again, be disheartened and disappointed by those whole lack the moral integrity to do what's right.

I see no benefit to co-existance except for increasing the profits of companies like Monsanto. We are slowly killing ourselves with food grown in soils depleted on minerals and now Roundup Ready foods.

I laugh when I think about the government telling me, on national television, to eat less salt while they approve GMOs as sources of my food. Is the irony of that situation hard to see?

I really hope you live the words that you write. I want to buy your organic products but not if I think that GMOs are lurking in the background.

James from on February 2, 2011 at 08:29:00 PM
@Mo: What's really gross and unhelpful is defending those with influence who are actively working to co-opt and silence the sustainable agriculture movement by "reluctantly" putting their organic industry stamp of approval on policy that has dangerous consequences for everyone who eats.
Bobby Dutton from from Caldwell Idaho on February 2, 2011 at 06:44:58 PM
I am dismayed that Organic Valley is changing their stance on GMO'S. This is a powerful battle and for those of us that have trusted Organic Valley for many years it is a sad day. Our bodies simply are not GMO friendly and there is a high price for us to step aside and let Monsanto do this to our food and our country. Everyone should watch the GMO TRILOGY so you understand what the real truth behind this take over of your food is really about. You can order a copy from
Fernando Villarruel from from Romeoville, IL on February 2, 2011 at 05:15:05 AM
I think you should continue to push for an Op-Ed piece somewhere. The public would repond well if well informed on both sides. If you need strength in numbers, let us know. I also support the GE labeling and think this would bring about a change in spending. My understanding is that is the practice in some parts of the EU, where GE has less of a stronghold on society. It is also about informed choices, and allowing folks to follow them according to their convictions.
Mo from from Ashland, OR on February 2, 2011 at 01:54:33 AM
Since so many on this board claim that there is no such thing as "coëxistence" with GMOs, what is your next step, if you had your way: give up, burn someone's fields?

Quit vilifying someone for their hard work. It's gross and not helpful.
Terje from from Hebron Ohio on February 1, 2011 at 03:34:59 PM
There will be no "caving in" from this consumer. Sorry to hear that Organic Valley is about to give up their fight and Coexist with poison.You can not coexist with a comany that want to contaminate your products.I have bought Organic Valley products for years, now I will have to spend my money buying from companies that still represent my views and continues the fight.
Bob from from St. Paul, MN on February 1, 2011 at 12:02:34 PM
Why doesn't Organic Valley support efforts to require that genetically modified food be labeled?

A November 2010 National Public Radio poll showed that 93% of Americans want GMO food labels. In Europe, where GMO crops and foods are not banned, a GMO label law has kept GMO crops out of fields and GMO foods off grocery store shelves because farmers and processors know that consumers won't buy food labeled GMO.

In it's January 31 press release (We Stand United in Opposition to GE Alafalfa) Organic Valley says "the entire organic community ... will have to work together" to win the battle against GMO food, yet there is no mention at all of Organic Consumers Association's nationwide Truth-in-Labeling campaign, aimed at leveraging the 93% public support for GMO labels by petitioning supermarket chains to voluntarily label their products.

Instead, the press release appears to oppose such efforts by stating "we believe that pressure to stop the proliferation of this contaminating technology must be focused on the White House and Congress."

But, if your focus is on Congress, why doesn't the press release mention support for Congressman Kucinich's Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act (H.R. 6636), requiring any food item containing GMOs to be labeled as such, which Kucinich will be presenting to the 111th Congress this year?

I ask Organic Valley to be forthright on the issue of GMO labels. If you don't want GMO labels, please tell us why.
Linda from from Georgia on February 1, 2011 at 11:04:46 AM
We must fight to have sustainability in our world and especially with our food chain.
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