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GE Alfalfa: What Does This Mean For The Future Of Food?

After the deregulation of alfalfa, organic consumer groups are divided on where to place the blame.


Photo: Aquafornia (flickr)

Alfalfa, which is used to produce hay, is the latest crop to be completely deregulated for genetic modification by the USDA.

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.”

Read more:

  • The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto — Now What? (OCA)
  • The Organic Community Must Come Out Swinging At The Right Opponents (Stonyfield Farms)
  • Team Organic will Never Surrender to Monsanto (The Non-GMO Project)
Carrie Schedler

Carrie Schedler is a senior at Indiana University studying journalism, English and French. She's originally from Columbus, Ohio, and still dreams often about salty caramel ice cream from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams and baguettes from her semester abroad in Paris. Hopefully, she'll learn how to cook eventually.

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  • Mike Lieberman

    I'm hesitant about all of the well crafted PR statements that have been thrown about. They don't seem genuine and honest. The Non-GMO Project post at least seemed like it was written by a person.

    There is an in-depth post on Tree Hugger today that brings up a good point about all of this. According to some members of this “Organic Elite” the complete ban was off the table back in December. It wasn't until after all of this went down that these statements were issued and all the talk.

    If this were the case and they were truly fighting, why wouldn't they rally their customer base then and fight. Not after the fact that they gave up.

    It's all disheartening, but gives me more reason to continue to grow some of my own food and source my food from local farmers that I can get to know. No need to support these big businesses.

  • Annie Corrigan

    Good points, Mike! It seems as though growing your own food is indeed one of the few ways of knowing exactly what you're eating.

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