A fault line between the organic community and the USDA erupted Thursday when USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA has given the agricultural community carte blanche to plant genetically modified alfalfa anywhere, any time. This includes within striking distance of neighboring organic farms. This is a departure from his previous stance, which favored limiting where the modified crop could be planted. Spun as "co-existence" rather than as a restriction, Vilsack's earlier attempt to please both organic and conventional farmers garnered grudging support. Whole Foods, for example, defended the co-existence proposal because it acknowledged that "cross-contamination of GE alfalfa could impact organic and non-GE farmers and consumers, both domestically and for our export markets." The mega-grocer also said that although co-existence wasn't the ideal set-up, at least it demonstrated that the USDA respected the organic industry and was looking for a way for "organic agriculture has the right to not only survive but to thrive alongside conventional agriculture."
Thursday, however, ended the niceties. The situation came to a head when a court-ordered environmental study about modified alfalfa's impact was released this week. The report was triggered by a 2006 lawsuit that kept the pesticide-resistant stock from being planted, due to concerns regarding, for example, cross-contamination: if pollen from Monsanto alfalfa were to mix with plants from an organic farm, organic farms would lose their organic status and consumers would be given fewer choices. The research study which was started in 2007 and weighed in at over 3,000 pages gave Vilsack two choices: give Monsanto's alfalfa a hands-down approval for, or opt for the more restrained co-existence concept.