The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Organic farmers ‘deeply disappointed’ with alfalfa decision

A wide range of farm and agribusiness groups praised Thursday’s announcement that USDA would allow the planting of Roundup Ready genetically-engineered alfalfa without restrictions, but the Organic Trade Association said in a news release it was “deeply disappointed.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa seed could be planted without restriction because it does not pose a plant pest risk, although he also announced a number of research efforts to assure the continued availability of organic alfalfa seed.

But Christine Bushway, the executive director and CEO of OTA, said the decision puts all the responsibility for assuring the purity of organic alfalfa on organic farmers.

“This creates a perplexing situation when the market calls for a supply of crops free of genetic engineering,” Bushway said. “The organic standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, and consumers will not tolerate the accidental presence of genetic engineered materials in organic products, yet GE crops continue to proliferate unchecked.”

She noted that the USDA organic program is the only federal food label that prohibits the use of GE crops or materials. “Under current USDA policy, the organic sector bears the burden created by unchecked release of GE crops. Preserving market and farmer choice and agricultural diversity are central to USDA’s mission and the future of rural American livelihoods. This failure to do so will make it increasingly difficult to meet the growing demand for U.S. organic crops.”

After a lengthy dialogue with farmers and other stakeholders of all types of production, Vilsack had said he was considering requiring geographic buffer zones and barriers to the planting of the genetically modified alfalfa, but he did not ultimately choose that option.

Bushway called Vilsack’s inclusion of the organic industry in the decision-making process “a small step for organic alongside giant steps towards accelerated decisions to deregulate many new GE crops awaiting review at USDA.” She added, “The organic industry and the loyal consumers of organic products will continue to resist this unrestricted commercialization of GE crops being brought to market by the well-funded and influential biotech industry.”

Most farm leaders said that USDA’s decision to allow unrestricted planting of genetically modified alfalfa was based on “sound science,” but Bushway contended that many unanswered questions about the long-term impact of genetic modification remain.