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Genetically Modified Alfalfa: The End of Organic Agriculture?

Last Thursday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA would allow Monsanto to plant genetically modified alfalfa without restriction. As is always the case with GMOs, there is a lot of conflicting information going around and arguments are very heated. We’ve gotten e-mails saying that this signals the end of organic agriculture. I don’t think it’s bad as all that, but it’s still pretty bad. Here’s a quick rundown.

Alfalfa is the country’s fourth biggest crop. Some of it is consumed directly by people, but most of it goes to feed cows and other livestock. Monsanto’s genetically modified alfalfa is made to be resistant to Roundup, an herbicide. It was planted in the U.S. from 2005 to 2007. Because alfalfa pollen can be carried up to five miles away, organic farmers were concerned that their crops would be contaminated with it and therefore could not be certified organic (among other things, organic foods are certified not to be genetically modified). A group of them sued and the court issued an injunction that prohibited farmers from planting it until the USDA had evaluated it.

The results of that evaluation are what came out last week. Opponents had hoped the USDA would continue to prohibit genetically modified alfalfa or at least restrict its use, but in the end, there will be no restrictions.

What does all this mean for you? Well, there’s no evidence that the genetically modified alfalfa poses any sort of health risk, but opponents worry there may be unintended consequences down the line. If you’re concerned about eating GMOs, you really won’t have any way of knowing that alfalfa or any meat that was raised on alfalfa isn’t the genetically modified variety. So to the extent that people should be allowed to make their own decisions about what kind of food they want to eat, this is definitely a bad thing.

For ways to get involved in protecting organics from GMO foods, check out Food Democracy Now. Want to learn more about GMO’s and how they affect our food supply? Check out the article on Babble Food.

Image: Sten

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