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

Casa Rosa Farms from from San Joaquin Valley on January 30, 2011 at 01:09:38 AM
How can I find out what conditions on those releases are being considered? I raise Organic alfalfa.
Chaz from from Kihei, Maui, HI on January 29, 2011 at 10:45:17 PM
Keep fighting for organic! I am so against GMO! Plain and simply frankensteinish!
Liz from from Iowa on January 29, 2011 at 10:12:07 PM
Many of you need to re-read the article on this website! Seems we are in a world of believing anything we read or see ANYWHERE. Why are you trusting the "media" reports and not this site?
Monsanto has been an problem in agriculture since my days in Ag school - they throw money at everyone and everything. Organic Valley is being slandered; like so many other reputable companies, because the little guy doesn't have the power like the big guns. Monsanto is evil and loaded, endgame...and I owe my health to all the great organic producers like Organic Valley who fight the good fight. It is a shame so many of you are easily swayed by the corrupt media who are owned by the corrupt government, who are controlled by the funds of companies like Monsanto. Don't eat your own!!!!! Fight the real enemy!!!!
coquie from from miami fl. on January 29, 2011 at 09:40:21 PM
I SAY LETS TRY TO BOYCOTT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE ALL MONSANTOS RETAIL ITEMS. WHAT YOU PUT ON PLANTS GROWING THEM YOU PUT INTO YOUR SYSTEM WHEN YOU EAT THEM.
Margo from from Tucson, Arizona on January 29, 2011 at 03:20:12 PM
Thank you for fighting for us. Don't give up! We are already bombarded with chemicals & our future health as well as our children's depend on organic farming, which we will continue to support.
Richard from from Cherry Valley,+IL on January 29, 2011 at 02:49:52 PM
If all those emotions expressed by many of the comments could be turned toward the true criminals, Monsanto and our elected officials things might change. The guilty parties will go to the bank and we who are affected by faulty decisions of government suffer.

Your voice as a citizen is only counted on election day and after the election it becomes government of the wealthy for the wealthy as dictated by the wealthy who bought your vote with marketing.
Richard from from Cherry Valley,+IL on January 29, 2011 at 02:40:01 PM
It is apparent to me that the wealth of Monsanto dictates USDA policy.
Sharon from on January 29, 2011 at 01:44:01 PM
Back-peddling away from your comments and trying to cover your ass now that the truth has been exposed will not help you now. YOUR PRODUCTS HAVE BEEN BANNED FROM MY HOUSE, my families houses and every friend that I can convince. I hope you choke on your GE alfalfa - traitor.
Michelle from from Illinois on January 29, 2011 at 01:35:44 PM
There are several actions that people can take:
1) Look up your congressmen and call or write a letter (or even better, both!).
2) Phone the White House: 202-456-1111.
3) Email the USDA: biotechquery@aphis.usda.gov

The only real clout that people have is with their purchasing power. Small changes might be made, but in the end the corporations can pay off as many people as they want in order to get their products into our food supply. You should look up the documentary Zeitgeist Moving Forward to see a better solution.
Deb from from Wisconsin on January 29, 2011 at 01:09:47 PM
"Assurance to protect our future seeds"? Who do you think you're fooling -- all of us? No. Your sickening capitulation, in exchange for "compensation" (read: monetary payoff) to your farmers for the permanent contamination of their crops, seeds, farms, all of it -- finally redefines who you are. You, the Organic Valley corporation, got tired of resisting power and, in the end, decided that a onetime payoff would soothe your tiredness. What you're selling off can NEVER be replaced. "You" used to know that, the you that used to be people with principles, as opposed to the you that is now corporate and values only short-term profit.

When you forbade the farmers who provide your milk to sell any raw milk, I thought, Oh hell, Organic Valley has been corrupted by being corporate. But I still kept an open mind, until now. Shame on you. I'll boycott you forever. Shame. (Appropriate that the code word below is "stagy", which is what I thought when I saw your picture and the PR-slick statement you posted above. I am sickened.
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