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

Wanda from from Arkansas on January 31, 2011 at 07:25:20 AM
I feel like I'm in a bad movie with a sad and tragic ending. I still can't believe this is happening. We need to continue to educate others about the dangers of GMOs and the importance of buying organic. Like George said, "Let's vote with our dollars." There is power in numbers. Let's not give up! Thank you and everyone else who fought against this.
John Walker from from Bloomsburg, PA on January 30, 2011 at 11:55:54 PM
We have supported Organic Valley products for all of the years of their existence. We are joining the boycott of Organic Valley products because O.V. has sold its customers out. How could you support Monsanto's move and maintain the integrity of your products?
Alice from from New York on January 30, 2011 at 10:07:19 PM
I have been buying your dairy products since 2007 but I am seriously considering a boycott! How could you let those tyrants swindle you like this?
Jan Dietrick from from Ventura, CA on January 30, 2011 at 09:48:26 PM
George, I imagine you've explored every means of magnifying influence with the press and I feel grateful. I'm curious if statements would be published from the directors for sustainability at Walmart & Sysco or other large conventional companies with growing interest in organic milk. Thanks.
Steve from from RI on January 30, 2011 at 08:54:10 PM
We all need to join this struggle against GMO produced food. It will be too late by the time we realize we have made a terrible mistake in tinkering with nature.
Wiscochef from from WISCONSIN on January 30, 2011 at 08:48:43 PM
I don't understand why consumers are having such a visceral reaction against Organic Valley as a fall-out of this corrupt process...

How many thousands of dollars has OV spent on preventing this from happening?

How many hours have they dedicated as a company to protect the sanctity of the American Family Farm?

Its disheartening to read all the comments about people who are willing to blame OV for a process they had no control over- it makes me wonder if they were ever dedicated to the Organic idea at all...

THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FOOD "FAD" AND A REVOLUTION IS THE LOYALTY OF THE PEOPLE BEHIND IT!

I will continue to support OV, I will continue to educate others about the broken aspects of the food system in America and I WILL NOT GIVE UP the idea that we can have foods without manipulation or the "miracle" of biotech.
todd lister from from Ga on January 30, 2011 at 08:47:32 PM
years of fighting the devil and you cave. I'm done buying Horizon anything.
Pathetic! Appropriately, the wierd code word I had to read and enter to post my comment is NASTY.
Lindsey from on January 30, 2011 at 06:40:34 PM
If you give up the fight against GMO's--which is clearly what this "co-existence" nonsense is--who will stand up for the small farmers and the consumers? I am very disappointed in your company for going along with this.
Dennis from from Edmonds on January 30, 2011 at 06:15:06 PM
Part 3 - Continued:

“In the face of ongoing approval of GMOs, we need to work together” - George. “Faced with that reality, we advocated for restrictions on the release, which would protect organic and non-GMO farmers. Let's work together and keep up the fight!” - Angie. What FIGHT on your part? You capitulated. “Lets work together” - Angie and George. Like you worked for your loyal customers who were expecting you to take a leadership position in defending THE HONOR of ORGANICS to the end, to do or die, especially after all your years of protestations about the wholesome healthy benefits of Organics and that we should be afraid, really afraid, of the untested, unsafe, risky, toxic, environmentally destructive, health-damaging effects to people and animals of GMOs, along with the ‘food security threatening’ seed greed of your arch enemy, Monsanto.

Well, you didn’t ‘do’ and in the end, we ‘died’ anyway and Organics will now be perceived to be an easy roll. “the more policymakers will listen.” – Angie. YEAH, sure!

To Your Health!
Dennis L. Weaver, MBA, GFG
Change Your Food - Change Your Life!™
Dennis from from Edmonds on January 30, 2011 at 06:14:13 PM
Part 2 - Continued:

deregulation and unregulated planting of GM alfalfa, a fait accompli that portends THE END of an ENTIRE segment of the Organic Industry, YOURS!

You did get a place at the table, but either you didn’t know how to entertain, or when they asked you to be seated, those ever-present pranksters from Monsanto pulled the chair out from under you.

And why the bows and curtsies to the USDA, anyway. You’re the nation’s largest organic, farmer-owned cooperative. It’s YOUR Government, not the other way ‘round.

“Co-existence is acknowledging the inevitable—continued dominance of GMO crops” - George. A way too easy crying of uncle. There’s no realistic coexistence with a biotech industry that harms human health, hurts animals, destroys biodiversity, pollutes the soil, rivers, lakes and air, sues independent, seed-saving farmers and is a direct threat to our food security. There can’t be ‘coexistence. The biotech Industry should not EXIST.

Part 2 - Continued
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