Will Deregulation of Genetically Modified Alfalfa Wipe out Organic Options?

Organic milk may become more expensive under the USDA's decision, critics say.

You may not care much about alfalfa, but the recent decision to deregulate genetically modified versions of the plant could limit the choices of milk, cheese and meat available to consumers.

If you’re concerned about what’s in the food you and your family eat, it’s hard not to conclude from the Agriculture Department’s latest ruling that the nation’s food supply is under constant siege.

The USDA’s decision last week to fully deregulate the planting of mutant alfalfa, or hay, is widely seen as a surrender to biotech giant Monsanto, whose genetically modified corn and soy enjoy enormous market share. The company has developed a genetically engineered alfalfa that resists being sprayed with Roundup, a popular herbicide also sold by Monsanto.

The trouble with the government’s decision what it means for organic farmers and, ultimately, for consumers of things like organic milk and yogurt, two of the most popular organic foods.

“This is a bad solution to a nonexistent problem,” noted food writer Michael Pollan told ABC News.

Can GMO Crops Be Contained?

To produce organic meat, cheese and milk, cows need to be fed a diet consisting of organic feed.

Organic food proponents worry that genetically engineered crops could cross-pollinate fields of organic alfalfa, as has happened with other genetically modified crops such as canola. That cross-contamination could strip many farmers of their hard-earned organic certification.

And that, as The Atlantic summarized, could lead to less organic livestock forage crops, fewer organic dairy farmers, less choice for consumers and higher prices for already expensive organic meat and dairy products.

There are plenty of good reasons to seek out organic milk; I made the switch after reading about bovine growth hormones and antibiotics that are routinely given to dairy cows on conventional farms. I’ll pass on the residual animal pharmaceuticals, thanks.

As David Suzuki, a noted geneticist and author, told Red, Green & Blue, science simply hasn’t adequately demonstrated that genetically modified foods are safe.

…Some have argued that we’ve been eating genetically modified foods for years with few observable negative consequences, but as we’ve seen with things like trans fats, if often takes a while for us to recognize the health impacts. With genetically modified foods, concerns have been raised about possible effects on stomach bacteria and resistance to antibiotics, as well as their role in allergic reactions. We also need to understand more about their impact on other plants and animals.

Why is This Happening?

Monsanto and many conventional farmers say that genetically modified products help increase yields and drive down prices for consumers.

But with more Franken-foods like “super-salmon” on the way, the uncertainties about the technology beg the question: Who exactly is demanding genetically modified food? Who’s asking for a more perfect tomato?

Are you?

Photo by micamonkey.

Sven Gustafson

About Sven Gustafson

Sven Gustafson is a senior writer in the Office of the President at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. He enjoys food, running, soccer and exploring Detroit and Michigan at large.
 
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One Comment to Will Deregulation of Genetically Modified Alfalfa Wipe out Organic Options?

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  1. Ella Baker 3 years ago

    The
    recent complete cave-in on the issue of GMO Alfalfa regulation – basically
    giving Monsanto and Forge complete freedom in the marketplace, is a serious
    blow to natural foods and American freedom to choose organic foods over
    so-called “frankenfoods.” Vilsack’s previous close ties to Monsanto
    may well be the reason of this regrettable decision to release GMO Alfalfa
    without regulation anywhere inside the USA.
     

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