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

Ravi from from new mexico on January 27, 2011 at 02:09:58 PM
Thank you for your excellent efforts - and please keep it up. GMO's are a ***very** serious threat to our farming and our health.

And a hint, perhaps, about your press releases. Having been in Public Relations i know that even with Monsanto out there trying to control things - a massive release of PR reports varied with different titles and article emphasis can sometimes break through the controls. Create 8 or 10 different press releases with different "spins" our the GMO message and release them in close timing but not at the same time. This also impacts the people choosing and gets them to take more notice. A slight of hand perhaps - but this is a serious war for our health and well-being - publicity however you can manage it!
Ravi
Daiasolgaia
Discoveries for a Full Life
http://daiasolgaia.com/
Shelly from from Missouri on January 27, 2011 at 02:03:08 PM
"Never Give Up" - At least we gave them some fight time ! What have we learned from all this? Plenty!I know many of us are disappointed but not ready to quit. Keep on educating it is our best weapon.
Bridget from from Virginia on January 27, 2011 at 02:02:41 PM
Thank you for the effort and I will keep this in my prayers. If anyone out there believes in prayer this is something additional to pray about.
Lily from from Chicagoland on January 27, 2011 at 02:00:53 PM
It would be wonderful if you would post a link to the Department of Agriculture or any other outlet/contact, so that concerned consumers could protest against the release of RR-Alfalfa. I went to the Dept of Agriculture website and found it difficult to find the correct place to post a comment on this topic. If you could help, it would be much easier to elevate public awareness on this. thank-you.
Rachelle from from Novi, Michigan on January 27, 2011 at 02:00:43 PM
Thank you, George, for making your Organic Valley consumers aware of this issue. As a result, I have written a letter to the White House regarding this matter. Has anyone started a petition on Care2's petition site? Let's my our voices heard about this issue!! We need to keep our seeds, our food, our land, and our future! I love having my own organic garden in my yard, but I don't want it to be my only source!
Anna T from on January 27, 2011 at 01:59:56 PM
Your efforts are much appreciated and do not go unnoticed by me. This is one of the many reasons why Organic Valley is one of the only brands of milk I purchase. Thanks for all you've done!
Carrie from from Ohio on January 27, 2011 at 01:59:47 PM
Thank your for this information. I'll be passing it on to anyone and everyone who will read and listen! It amazes me what is done and forsaken for the all mighty dollar. It also amazes me what is done, and done with care and consideration, because it's the right thing to do.
Harriet Zbikowski from from Beacon, New York on January 27, 2011 at 01:59:36 PM
Go to Food Democracy Now and sign their petition.
http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/
Stephanie from from Folsom, CA on January 27, 2011 at 01:58:03 PM
Thank you! What can we do to help your fight?
Janice Ivy from from Olathe, Kansas on January 27, 2011 at 01:56:24 PM
Please keep fighting against this.
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