End of Organics? Monsanto’s GMO Alfalfa Approved

  • Published on January 28th, 2011

alfalfa harvestThe USDA has approved Monsanto’s gene-modified alfalfa.

So what?” you say. “I don’t eat alfalfa.”

But if you eat beef, drink milk, eat cheese or ice cream, or eat any packaged food products that contain dairy, you DO eat alfalfa… as processed by cows. Alfalfa is the backbone of the agribusiness beef and dairy industry.

So the organic dairy industry is about to change, in a big way: until now, being non-GMO has been a principal part of being organic. But once they let these genes out of the bottle, there’s no going back:

  • Alfalfa is an insect-pollinated crop
  • There is no way to prevent cross-contamination from fields planted with Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa to other fields.
  • These genes will contaminate the rest of America’s alfalfa crops within a few years
  • In addition to its key use in dairy farming, alfalfa has also been used as a rotation crop to recharge fields in ecologically-sound agriculture methods.

The Organic Seed Alliance is “very disappointed” with this decision (to say the least)

Although Secretary Vilsack outlined additional steps his department will take to ensure “the availability of high quality seed,” the most meaningful steps toward ensuring fairness and organic integrity are conspicuously absent from this decision.

The decision is especially disappointing considering USDA acknowledges that GE material moves into fields and markets where it is not allowed or wanted. OSA believes the agency missed an opportunity to establish a comprehensive framework for overseeing GE crops and to protect the organic industry. Such a framework is long overdue.

What happened? Big organics companies like Whole Foods MarketOrganic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm tried playing footsie with Big Ag, working with Ag Secretary Vilsack on a compromise that would have let the GMOs in with vague assurances of safeguards. But Big Ag ramped up the pressure, and Vilsack caved – see accompanying article, “From Big Ag to Big Organics: Welcome to the Brave New World.”

-> Next Page: More fallout for organics

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.
  • 7765

    Playing around with cross breeding is different than genetic engineering. Sometimes the genetic modification is to fool a consumer into digesting a product as though it was something else and then finding out later it is missing something so the consumer ends up eating something that has no food value… You can use such a method as a poison or birth control. You can also use that method into tricking a mold not to grow on a strawberry so its useful life is extended a few days. No harm there. I am not too worried about GMO as much as I am about excessive pesticides (which are poisonous) and antibiotics (which cause tolerance levels to build in the food chain). So, for that, I am in favor of the organic growers trying to minimize that stuff. But, if the whole industry went organic we might have a real drop in food production which is not a good thing. However, the food industry in the US at least needs a kick in the pants. We subsidize corn way too much. And growing corn to make alcohol fuel and sweetener for junk food is a disaster. So I would take that away. Tough luck big guys… you have taking us all to the cleaners for years. I am not sure what to do with dairy subsidies. They have created a very complicated system to use price supports to ensure production levels don’t peak and crash all the time. But then we find out dairy is not such good food for overweight americans… So time to back off cow products I think.

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  • Monsanto Execs should be arrested for committing terrorist act. They are slowly killing the American people. They are worst than any enemy of the American people and anyone who is affiliated with them (past or present) should be hung for treason. When will the United States Gov’t start protecting the American people!

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  • I worked for OSHA in Belleville, Illinois from 1980 until 2001 and dealt with Monsanto repeatedly as a government Industrial Hygienist Compliance Officer and inspected Monsanto repeatedly as a government inspector responding to health and safety complaints from employees. Monsanto had a great deal of influence on the government back then and was one of the worst violators OSHA dealt with and the governments solution was to do what Monsanto told them to do and drop most if not all of the violations they were charged with during that period of time. I presume knowing what has happened politically since then that Monsanto has even more influence on the government at this time and that includes OSHA and the Labor dept. of which OSHA is a part. I presume knowing what government regulation has come to since then that the government(OSHA and the Labor Dept.)does not do anything and I include the FDA as a do nothing along with all other U.S. governmental regulatory agencies. You should see the government squirm and backtrack when they are up against Monsanto. A president or chief officer of Monsanto was appointed head of OSHA several years ago and one way or another Monsanto still has a vast amount of influence on OSHA and all other governmental regulatory agencies that affect Monsanto’s operations. Monsanto is a big violator of the applicable OSHA regulations. The government lawyers dropped all or most of the violations they were issued during the settlement negotiations where the violations and penalties were made to go away or nearly so. Monsanto and other big corporations have even more influence on the government in recent times, not to say they own the government. You have asked me to be more moderate. I suppose, at the present time, they may not even be issued violations. This would relieve Monsanto and other big orporations of the expense of having a settlement negotiation. The government today is not very concerned with the safety and health of the working employees just the convienence of big business. Call me or write me if you want to know more about my experience with OSHA performing inspections involving Monsanto and other large corporations in Illinois. My address is Harold Carter, 902 Tony Drive, Jonesboro, Arkansas 72401 and my telephone number is 870-932-3026. I will tell you all I can remember of how big corporations like Monsanto react when they are pestered by federal regulators. This happened in Sauget, Illinois where Monsanto has a chemical plant and other locations in Illinois where I inspected other large corporate facilities not limited to Monsanto facilities. I base my comments on what I have seen of how they do not comply with health and safety regulations and from watching them intimidate OSHA and the Labor Department. OSHA management all the way up the chain of command. Washington controls what violations are issued and what violations are retained, not depending on what violations actually exist. These big corporations like Monsanto like to keep their records of violations as low as possible and will take whatever measures necessary to do so. The FDA which regulates health and safety of food and other products cannot be depended upon when political pressure is applied by business interest with money. Neither can OSHA be depended on to enforce health and safety regulations. OSHA likes to show how effective they are by hammering small businesses and individual employers where they can expect no effective legal or other opposition. Where big money interest are in opposition OSHA and FDA and other regulatory agencies shy away. The money is all in the hands of the big corporations of which Monsanto is only one example. Government regulatory agencies are very impressed with big money. They bow and scrape to big money. Once Monsanto got into producing genetically modified seeds and crops they deemphasized their involvement in the heavy heavy chemical industry. If you are opposing Monsanto and others like them you are not going to accomplish very much because you are not going to be able to compete with them in spreading big money around which they are willing and able to do.

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  • As a RGB author I can see comments before they are approved. I see one pending from Terry Connell who is concerned about the fact that Bt, GMO crops make a “chemical pesticide” in the plant. I wish Terry could hear the whole story. Yes, what Bt crops like corn or cotton make is technically a pesticide. It is a protein from a natural, soil microbe and that microbe has been used as a biological pesticide for more than 60 years. If you have eaten any Organic crops they have almost surely been sprayed multiple times with this “chemical” and the same is actually true for many “Conventional” vegetables. The beauty of this “toxin” is that it is only toxic to very specific insect pests and not to beneficials like lady bugs. It is completely non-toxic to us.

    Plants have been making their own pesticides long before GMO crops. That is why coffee has caffeine, hot peppers have capsaicin, and tobacco has nicotine. All of the above are far more toxic chemicals than most pesticides, but we all happily eat at least the first two.

    So, Terry, don’t worry about being killed by GMO crops. Don’t worry about your food in general. Enjoy your life!

    • Robin Lakusta

      Really!!!?????? You have no CLUE about the evolution of plants and cross breeding and Genetically Modified, Steve. no clue at all. You think that introducing a specific gene into a plant does not create problems. cross breeding is mixing genes and genetic modification is NOT. No genetically modified palant should EVER BE released into the food chain until LONG TERM testing has been done and longterm does not mean 90 day.
      maybe instead of taking pay offs from Monsanto you should do some indepentent research.

    • Will

      “The beauty of this “toxin” is that it is only toxic to very specific insect pests and not to beneficials like lady bugs”. Actually the opposite is true toxins like neonicotinoids used for seed treatment and Monsanto’s Bt toxin are highly toxic to honeybees, Clothianidin which is a neonicotinoid is 7000 times more toxic to bees then DDT. The most important thing to your well being is what you eat, and you say don’t worry about your food! Really??

  • This is about POISONING our food supply. If you think it’s safe to eat GMO products, then sit down and have a nice tall glass of the chemical pesticide that the plant is engineered to utilize for growth. Kill yourself quickly. The rest of us do NOT want to be killed slowly! We want to be able to eat what we grow in our fields and back yards KNOWING that it is health and clean – not contaminated. We want to know that same food we grow with thrive on God-given water and nutrients and that we wont have to run out and start buying the chemicals because we suddenly have contaminated seeds that won’t grow without them.


    Also, while this is a hot topic and evokes a LOT of feelings, using foul language is not appropriate. Understand that it makes me want to yell and cuss too, but my children and many others are interested in this topic and they are reading these articles, so please keep it a bit cooler. I think we all sound a little more respectable that way…

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  • If it aint broke don’t fix it…i fear what maybe discovered in our future because of the lack of common sense being used let me clearify.WE ARE PUTTING POISON IN OUR FOOD TO KEEP THE BUGS FROM EATING IT,THEN SPRAYING MORE POISONS TO KEEP THEM OFF.THEN “WE” EAT IT BUT ITS NOT FIT FOR BUGS HOW CAN IT BE GOOD FOR US,think people the thing we are changing are not the same,they may look and taste the same but they are different and dangerous…we are the test rats for the next generation to realize if we dont demand a recall and further investigating into GMO foods and there affects on our species and livestock we feed it to

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  • This is my reply to this unbelievable state of affairs: http://laurabruno.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/monsanto-dna-and-evolutionary-backwash/

    Thanks for raising awareness!

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  • Hello,
    Are you are aware that Clarence Thomas, supreme court judge, who voted against not having GMO alfalfa, used to work for Monsanto!? That should have him disqualify on the grounds of conflict of interest.

  • i’m with Big Willy 100%. The ONLY people with anything to gain here are the people selling this shit to the people who are running out of healthy choices. FUCK YOU MONSANTO and every other greedy short sighted GMO selling company. YOU ALL CAN SUCK MY ASS, but wait till I’ve eaten some of your shitty seeds first!

  • Big Willy Style

    Man… FUCK MONSANTO!!! And all those GMO sellin’ bitches!

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  • JAM

    And what about when Monsanto starts suing the non-Monsanto growers for “stealing” their seeds like they did with soy growers when the cross pollination starts?

    I don’t know which corporation is more evil…Monsanto or Halliburton

  • Sorry, correction.

    “GMO’s shouldn’t have to be proven unfit AFTER being released onto the market.”

  • Steve Savage,

    “All Organic hay represents 0.7% of US Hay. Organic alfalfa is some subset of that number. It makes absolutely no sense to penalize 99.3+% of alfalfa growers because of unreasonable standards for “adventitious presence” in Organic.”

    It sounds like you make a very logical argument…
    that is if you completely ignore the dangers of GMO’s.

    We’re not talking about sectors of the economy, or niche markets, we’re talking about public health. This is not some harmless widget, this is food that people ingest.

    GMO’s shouldn’t have to be proven unfit before being released onto the market. To the contrary, they should be PROVEN SAFE first. This is very far from the case, and in fact, the mounting evidence points to the opposite conclusion. Many people have severe and sometimes fatal reactions to GMO products already, let alone considering the genetic drift which will inevitably happen after the bits of viral and bacterial DNA used in the process of genetic modification recombine through cross pollination.

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  • Jeremy,
    There is no need for this to be the “end of Organic.” For decades Organic certifiers have used the notion of “intent.” If there were residues of some disallowed pesticide on Organic because of drift from the neighbor it was OK. Several years ago when it turned out that the liquid fertilizer that most of the industry had been using was actually spiked with (horrors!) synthetic nitrogen, no farms were forced to go through the three year transition again because of having been “contaminated” by synthetic nitrogen because they had no such “intent.”

    In this case, if an organic alfalfa field ends up with a little bit of cross pollination from the GMO alfalfa (it goes both ways by the way), there was no “intent” and also no actual danger of any kind, so unless the Organic certifiers themselves want to hurt the Organic farmer it should be no issue.

    Any decent alfalfa grower (Organic or otherwise) is going to start with new seed grown specifically for that purpose when they periodically re-plant their fields. Pollen moves, it always has.

    All Organic hay represents 0.7% of US Hay. Organic alfalfa is some subset of that number. It makes absolutely no sense to penalize 99.3+% of alfalfa growers because of unreasonable standards for “adventitious presence” in Organic.

    Actually, it turns out that on average, Organic hay sells for less than conventional. That is probably because the people who buy hay are more concerned about whether it is contaminated with weeds (some toxic) than about whether it is Organic.

    • Steven Savage writes: “Pollen moves, it always has.”

      This and two other facts are true. The other two are that men (not nature) have always done selective breeding and that nature has always done haphazard and sporadic mutation. The fourth true fact is that we are now talking about a different thing.

      Under the circumstance that the mutation is haphazard and sporadic there’s nothing wrong about moving pollen. Because if the new plant is somewhow superior, which means better adapted to the ecological system and so more successful, the whole system has a lot of time to adapt itself to the new inhabitand. The alien seeds are few. Even if the mutation was by nonnatural means, this single Frankenstein’s monster is very likely to get eaten up very quickly by the system, and even if it might survive it only can do so by nutrition and reproduction, which again means adaption to the system.

      Selective breeding by men means from this point of view that a new inhabitant is brought up and deployed in a large amount. But in organic breeding the very event of mutation in a single individual is still left to nature. Although one might discuss if this huge deployment of mutated seeds is still harmless, still the process is partly natural. If the pollen moves the system has to cope with an inhabitand that might also have occured otherwise.

      But under the circumstance that the mutation is by nonnatural means and it is brought out in a very large amount, as it is in GMO farming, the fact of moving pollen might get hazardous. In combination with the usage of a special substance a situation is created where the little frankensteinian monsters are more successful.

      There is no invasion by one little individual. To make an invasion it takes many of them. An invasion by a species that has been formed by matural mutation and by selection within an ecological system might still be a natural happening but it may already be hazardous to the whole system and to its food chains.

      The crucial difference is that now we create an invasion by nonnatural mutants by the moving pollen. Pollen has always moved, but never ever before has pollen of monsters moved in such large numbers that could make an invasion.

  • This is shocking news….

    While the majority of the population in Europe hates GMO and fights for their right to know what gets into their food chain, here in the US no one really seems to be concerned about this. Most important is that the steak in the supermarket is cheap, it seems…..
    Why is there no broad consumer initiative against Monsanto’s GMO crops and toxic pesticides? If this gets reality there is no way back anymore….

    That is really scary !!!