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

Lee from from Moorhead, MN on January 31, 2011 at 10:20:25 PM
Obviously we cannot trust in our government. We can only persevere and continue in cultivating good food to the best of our ability in spite of the new challenge. Life is not fair, and there are consequences for mistakes.
Christine from from Bryan, TX on January 31, 2011 at 09:34:28 PM
Thank you for fighting the good fight George. Sometimes it's overwhelming and feels like a losing battle, but like Food Inc. says, we all get to vote three times a day. Our family has recently joined a local (organic practices, non-certified) CSA and have begun to eat more organic and vegetarian meals. It's a big step for us, but we do not want the Monsanto GMO/perverted food.
Claudia de Maldonado from from Roseville, Minnesota on January 31, 2011 at 09:02:27 PM
I am very sad that people in power have decided to alter the alfa plant. Unfortunately, power is mostly use to destroy what we need in the future to survive healthy. I am willing to keep buying Organic Valley and tell everyone why? I also want to thank Organic Valley for their efforts to stop the USDA to approved the GMO alfa. May God, the Creator bless you for protecting His creation.
Robin from from NJ on January 31, 2011 at 07:38:55 PM
This scares me since it seems they have the monopoly. I don't want my food altered in this way. Please keep fighting for all of us.
Donna from from North Carolina on January 31, 2011 at 07:07:22 PM
I am discouraged that the USDA has decided to approve the release of RR-Alfalfa. I had hoped that Organic Valley would continue to oppose this government action instead of cooperating with it, though I realize this not an easy decision to make.

This may contribut to more people becoming Vegan and giving up dairy all together.
Jenny from from Eugene, OR on January 31, 2011 at 06:44:45 PM
There is no such thing as co-existence in this situation. It is a lie, as I'm sure most in the industry are aware, since there has already been ample evidence of contamination of natural seed by GMO seed. This conflict between Monsanto and human/ecological health is one of the most important areas to make a stand -- and you have stepped aside. FAIL.
Barbara from on January 31, 2011 at 05:49:51 PM
I heard from the Organic Consumers Organization that Organic Valley has caved, following Whole Foods and that you no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, that you decided its best to cut a deal for "coexistence". This is appalling. And totally different than what your website says.
katy from from (sad in )illinois on January 31, 2011 at 05:48:17 PM
This is heartbreaking to hear, to the core. The ONLY way is the Organic way, we will find this out the hard way. There is no "co- existing" with the devil! I think it's time to go as close to 100% local as possible, that means even giving up Organic Valley. Such a HUGE let down.
Dane from on January 31, 2011 at 04:47:24 PM
Does anyone think that Organic Valley, Stonyfield's, and Whole Foods markets willingness to support GMO alfalfa ('play along' mentality) is just to jack up the prices of their already premium products?
Angie at Organic Valley

Hi Dane,

We DID NOT support the release of GMO alfalfa. When we learned that the USDA intended to release it despite significant public opposition, we urged them to consider putting restrictions in place to protect organic and non-GMO seeds, crops and farmers.

Marci from on January 31, 2011 at 02:46:55 PM
You can put a fence around it, but that won't protect the non-GMO crops from contamination.

Co-existence, in this context, will eventually mean the complete disappearance of non-GMO foods.

But this is mirrored everywhere we look now.
Our food supply already endangers our health and moves like this promise to make it even worse.

Meanwhile, we have co-existed so well with the health insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the lobby to give corporations the full rights of person-hood with none of the attendant responsibility, that as more and more of us develop environmental illnesses, we will have no recourse but to go ahead and die.

Apparently, defeat is contagious.
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