Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack decided last week to fully deregulate the planting of alfalfa genetically modified to resist the spraying of Roundup herbicide, so why should you care?
This move had been opposed by organic farmers and consumers because of the strong possibility that genetically modified alfalfa will cross-pollinate non-GM alfalfa. This has been recognized by the Supreme Court as potentially harmful to the organics sector, since organic foods cannot be produced with genetically modified crops. Once organic livestock are fed GM alfalfa, they can no longer be called organic.
The only appeasement the USDA offered were panels on studying ways to prevent contamination from occurring in the future. But this seems akin to studying ways to protect a forest after loggers have been allowed to cut down the trees.
The decision was a stunning reversal of a more measured approach that Vilsack appeared to be taking in December, when the USDA talked about considering the impact of the GM crop on other sectors of agriculture. But that was before he faced an uproar from the GM industry and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal for playing nice with organic farmers. As George Siemon, head of the Organic Valley dairy co-operative, said:
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.
And as Liana Hoodes, director of the National Organic Coalition, said: "Organic farmers and others are now left, once again, having to take all the precautions while biotech takes little responsibility."