Photo: Aquafornia (flickr)
The Future Of Food
On January 27, the USDA voted to deregulate genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. This will allow farmers to freely plant the once-banned crop. Critics declared this as a victory for major seed conglomerate Monsanto.
Many took to blaming large organic-focused companies like Whole Foods and Stonyfield Farms for not standing up against genetically modified organism (GMOs), including the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). The OCA declared this another instance of how the “organic elite” have become more like giant corporations, taking them farther from their consumers who want closer relationships with their foods and producers.
Four Years In The Making
The debate over genetically engineered alfalfa began in 2007, when a U.S. district court judge ruled that planting the “Roundup Ready” alfalfa seeds (which tolerate the Monsanto-produced pesticide better than non-modified counterparts) couldn’t be planted until the USDA completed a full investigation into the potential environmental impacts.
Their study was released in December 2010 and advocated for conditional deregulation, which would allow farmers to use the seeds but with possible restrictions on where and how it could be planted.
But an organization within the USDA, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, came to a different conclusion in January, saying they found no evidence that the modified plants posed a greater risk. That led to the deregulation decision.
A reminder, though — GE crops cannot be labeled as organic, though some consumer groups note that there’s not enough regulation in place to ensure that GMOs are completely separate from organic foods in all stages of the production process.
Movers And Shakers In The Organic World
Whole Foods had actively campaigned for conditional deregulation as a compromise throughout the USDA’s decision-making process, which consumer groups like the OCA interpreted as aligning with conglomerates like Monsanto, citing that most of Whole Food’s “natural” pre-packaged foods (which make up most of its profits) contain GMOs.
Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farms, said the political and financial odds stacked against the anti-GE food position made the battle impossible to start, but his company didn’t give up the fight.
Another organization, the Non-GMO Project, broke down the Organic Consumers Association argument in the hopes to remind readers that “we are all on the same team.”