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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Dennis from from Edmonds on January 30, 2011 at 06:13:01 PM
When are you, Angie, and George going to get off that whine of yours: “We also wish we had more clout with the USDA, but organic is still a very small part of the giant agricultural industry.” - Angie. “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.” - George. But, on the day of the USDA’S announcement about the true and real THREAT to YOUR Organic Industry, The New York Times gave YOU a chance to “say something” [U.S. Approves Genetically Modified Alfalfa, By Andrew Pollack, NEW YORK TIMES, January 28, 2011] and THIS is what George came up with?: “It was disappointing, but as you know, there is a tremendous amount of pressure here,” said George Siemon, chief executive of Organic Valley, the nation’s largest organic dairy cooperative. WOW!

“Predictably, the biotech industry has all angles covered” - G NO! They’re just smarter, tougher and NEVER take their eye off the prize.

“It really was a victory just to have the importance of protecting organic make it into consideration.” - A. THAT’S a VICTORY in your mind,CONSIDERATION? “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.” - G. And yeah, a lot of good it did you: the complete green-lighted, EIS approved,

Part 1 - Continued
Sarah from from Wisconsin on January 30, 2011 at 04:15:55 PM
Please keep fighting for organic.
Dorothy from from owenton,KY on January 30, 2011 at 04:07:09 PM
though not a farmer this news has sickened me. Thanks for the fine fight, lets hope people are able to put up the fine fight and purchase Non-GMO It has to be so hard when money and families are at stake, thanks again for all you do.
Wioletta from from Long Island,N.Y. on January 30, 2011 at 04:05:43 PM
"If the bugs won't eat it, I won't neither". Thank you for fighting Monsanto. God bless you.
Wioletta from from Long Island - N.Y. on January 30, 2011 at 03:54:57 PM
I stand with you. Thank you for fighting Monsanto.
"If the bugs won't eat it, I won't neither.
Ron from from Minnesota on January 30, 2011 at 03:11:04 PM
Lot of double speak and euphemisms here. I would like to see OV guauantee that there products, in the current, near, and distant future, do not and will not include any GMO's. I will not be purchasing any OV products. I will purchase from a "single" organic grass fed farmer near me. I admit even then natural forces may contaminate what I buy; but at least the producer (s) will not have been a part of your sham.
Ellen from from Kelseyville, northern+California on January 30, 2011 at 02:25:51 PM
Yes, organic farming is a "beacon of hope." Let's keep it that way. This fight began in 1992 when former Monsanto Attorney and Vice President became the Czar of Food Safety of the Food and Drug Association. Massive collateral damage to plants people and the environment has been done, and it is increasing at present. Let's work together and not divide, but get more info at www.Responsible and work together!
Ron from on January 30, 2011 at 01:38:28 PM
The genie has been let out of the bottle. It can not be placed back in it. VERY VERY unfortunate!! GMO's can not "co-exist" with organic because of natural forces; the wind, rain; the birds and the bees, etc.
Yolanda from from Willoughby, Ohio on January 30, 2011 at 10:45:25 AM
Keep fighting for the little people. We need companies like yours to standup for what you believe. Stay strong.
tess from from south carolina on January 30, 2011 at 10:00:08 AM
It's a pity that Organic Valley has capitulated to Big Ag and its minions.

You now join Horizon on my DO NOT BUY list.

Goodby, I am removing my name from further OG Valley mailings.
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