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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Bobbi from on January 31, 2011 at 01:25:19 PM
I'm sorry, but there's no such thing as 'coexistence' when it comes to pollination. Watch the documentary The World According to Monsanto for more information about what happened to Mexico's corn crop as a result of GM corn. I think it's irresponsible of those in the organic market to even entertain 'coexistence'. It simply won't work.
John from from Seattle, WA on January 31, 2011 at 01:09:53 PM
I'm legitimately sick to my stomach. By voting with our dollars, do you mean not buying Organic Valley any longer?
angie from from MN on January 31, 2011 at 12:48:32 PM
Its very important to make this information available to the public, so that people are informed and able to make their voices heard! The squeeky wheel gets the oil.
Patty from from on January 31, 2011 at 12:37:31 PM
Don't mess with mother nature- have we not learned anything?
Jean from from NJ on January 31, 2011 at 12:20:12 PM
There is no co-existance with GMO agriculture. Seeds become air-born and join with other agriculture. We need to continue to educate others about the dangers of GMOs and the importance of buying organic. One look at the statistics of the rise in cancer in this country should be enough to open eyes wide and stop those out for profits at our health expense.
Lydia from on January 31, 2011 at 11:54:43 AM
"Coexistence" with chemical-dependent, input-intensive, industrial-scale GMO agriculture is behind Bee Colony Collapse Disorder. By settling for "coexistence" instead of outright ban, Organic Valley has become tragically complicit in the very ecocidal destruction its core business was founded to prevent. This is terribly sad.
Emily from from Tennessee on January 31, 2011 at 09:43:13 AM
Thank you for letting us know what's going on. I will continue to use my consumer dollars for my food votes. Power to the organic farmers!
Trinette from from Stephens City, VA on January 31, 2011 at 09:29:58 AM
Thanks for fighting for this cause. I am so against GMO farming and I have been purchasing NON GMO foods. However I find it so disappointing that we have to go to such an extreme of reading the labels and googling the contents in the foods while in the store grocery shopping. I remember a time when I could pick up a product and know it’s safe. Not any more. I'm determined to provide me family the safest food possible. I am constantly looking for coupons because buying organic is expensive. So with this said can you please please make more of your coupons accessible to the consumers. I love your products thanks again.
alexandra bab from from rochester,ny on January 31, 2011 at 07:55:14 AM
it seems that's what is good for us FDA blocks, and what is realy bad for human kind FDA happily apruves. in my opinion FDA tries to control population. the worst some products are the more they are praised by FDA. isn't sad that all our paid tax money go to pay to the ones who don't want to hear us or care about human kind. i bet they themselves a lot.
Susanne from from Florida on January 31, 2011 at 07:29:56 AM
Thank you for your continuing fight for organic solutions and choices. I'm sure I must be quite behind the times, but was just introduced to TED science ( this weekend and wondered if the site might be a venue for this discussion. Or, perhaps youtube.
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