Food wholefoods

Published on January 29th, 2011 | by Jeremy Bloom


From Big Ag to Big Organics: Welcome to Monsanto’s Brave New World

UPDATE: For the other side of this issue, see “Stonyfield Farm Takes a Swing at Monsanto (And the OCA)” and “Organic Valley says ‘No compromise, no deal’ “

Organics is big business now. Companies like Whole Foods and Stonyfield Farm do billions of dollars in business.

And in the fallout of this week’s approval of Monsanto’s gene-modified alfalfa (see accompanying article: “End of Organics? Monsanto’s GMO Alfalfa Approved“), organic advocates are accusing them of backing off from the battle. Despite tens of thousands of organic consumers writing and calling, begging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to hold off on the move, they’ve gone ahead and let the gene out of the bottle – and organic agriculture will never be the same.

Ronnie Cummins at the Organic Consumers Association was livid:

In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation’s 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America’s organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods MarketOrganic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it’s time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto’s controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for “coexistence” with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack.

And what does Whole Foods say? They’re making the right noises:

We are very disappointed in the USDA’s decision to deregulate GE Alfalfa with no conditions (meaning no restrictions to support coexistence). Planting GE alfalfa without restrictions may cause potential contamination of organic and non-genetically engineered crops. Despite this setback, Whole Foods Market will continue to be strong advocates for non-GE foods, their clear labeling and offering them in the marketplace.

Sounds good so far.

Many people have asked us why we endorsed the coexistence option rather than an outright ban on GE alfalfa. That was never an option in Washington!  The USDA presented the industry with only two options that they were considering– deregulation and deregulation with restrictions. Given the pervasive planting of GE crops in the U.S. – 93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton and 93% of canola seed planted were genetically engineered in the U.S. in 2010 – the option of an outright ban was not on the table. Whole Foods Market — along with the National Cooperative Grocers Association, the National Organic Coalition, the Organic Trade Association, and other companies and groups — endorsed the path of deregulation with restrictions, or coexistence, not because it was a perfect path, but because it was a path to create meaningful change right now in the regulating of genetically engineered foods and the protection of non-GE foods. Because we supported the USDA’s approach of coexistence, certain consumer groups misunderstood our efforts and accused us of supporting big biotech, endorsing the proliferation of GE crops, and turning our backs on our shoppers’ and their desire to avoid GE food. Nothing could be further from the truth!

And Stonyfield Farms also expressed shock – they had thought their compromise “co-existence” plan was going to fly. As George Siemon, head of the Organic Valley dairy co-operative, said (via chewswise):

The biotech industry has waged a complete war on the Secretary of Agriculture 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.

But is that just what happens when you play footsie with big ag? As usual, our side compromise and met them halfway… and then halfway again… and in the end we gave them the store.

Cummings is pretty thorough in his indictment:

  • According to informed sources, the CEOs of WFM and Stonyfield are personal friends of former Iowa governor, now USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, and in fact made financial contributions to Vilsack’s previous electoral campaigns.
  • Vilsack was hailed as “Governor of the Year” in 2001 by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and traveled in a Monsanto corporate jet on the campaign trail.
  • Perhaps even more fundamental to Organic Inc.’s abject surrender is the fact that the organic elite has become more and more isolated from the concerns and passions of organic consumers and locavores.
  • The Organic Inc. CEOs are tired of activist pressure, boycotts, and petitions. Several of them have told me this to my face.
  • They apparently believe that the battle against GMOs has been lost, and that it’s time to reach for the consolation prize.
  • The consolation prize they seek is a so-called “coexistence” between the biotech Behemoth and the organic community that will lull the public to sleep and greenwash the unpleasant fact that Monsanto’s unlabeled and unregulated genetically engineered crops are now spreading their toxic genes on 1/3 of U.S. (and 1/10 of global) crop land.
  • A huge percentage of the food sold at Whole Foods – “natural” and even certified organic – is now contaminated by GMOs. The battle is lost.

Let’s hope it’s not that bad…

UPDATE: For the other side of this issue, see “Stonyfield Farm Takes a Swing at Monsanto (And the OCA)” and “Organic Valley says ‘No compromise, no deal’ “

What can you do?


  • Tom Vilsack – USDA Alfalfa Comments Line:  301-851-2300
  • President Obama  202-456-1111 (or send a written message online)
  • Monstanto               314-694-1000

More on this:

Tags: , , , ,

About the Author

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

Back to Top ↑