In one week, the US Department of Agriculture clearly demonstrated that it favors the bottom line of one biotechnology company, Monsanto, while putting the organic food industry at-risk and ignoring more than 400,000 people who expressed concerns about genetically engineered (GE) foods. On January 27, USDA approved unrestricted plantings of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetically engineered alfalfa and followed that on February 4 by allowing restricted plantings of GE sugar beets.
With the sugar beet decision, USDA also ignored a federal court ruling that prohibits plantings of the GE beets.
Health and environmental risks of GE crops
The agency’s policy toward GE crops is basically to rubber stamp their approval, despite continued concerns over the health and environmental risks of GE crops. Here are some recent research findings.
- A multigenerational study on hamsters fed GE soy found that by the third generation the hamsters had lost the ability to reproduce. They also suffered slower growth and there was a high mortality rate among the hamster pups.
- A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that insecticidal proteins from GE corn are entering streams throughout the Midwest. No one knows the impacts of these GE proteins on the environment.
- Studies have found that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup herbicide used extensively with Roundup Ready GE crops, is linked to more than 40 plant diseases, is toxic to beneficial soil nutrients, reduces manganese, an essential nutrient in plants, and has been shown to be toxic to human cells.
US farmers are now using so much Roundup herbicide that more and more weeds are becoming resistant to it. Nearly 11 million acres of farmland contained Roundup resistant weeds last year and the problem is growing exponentially.
Amazingly, in its court ordered environmental review of GE alfalfa, USDA ignored the weed resistance problem. Now farmers will use even more Roundup and other harmful herbicides with GE alfalfa and sugar beets.
Major threats to organic food
Both GE crops pose major threats to organic foods. Alfalfa is the fourth major crop in the US after corn, soybeans, and cotton. It is a perennial crop that is pollinated by bees and other insects that travel great distances and grows wild near roads, ditches, and yards. Alfalfa is used extensively as feed for organic dairy cows and other livestock and used by organic farmers as a “green manure” to build healthy soils. With no restrictions, GE alfalfa could easily contaminate organic alfalfa threatening organic dairy production.
Speaking about the approval of GE alfalfa, Albert Straus, dairy farmer and president Straus Family Creamery, said: “This is a ruling that seriously jeopardizes the integrity of the organic food chain, and could cause irreparable harm to organic farmers by ruining our ability to supply organic dairy foods to customers.”
Like alfalfa, sugar beets are a prolific pollinator and pollen from GE beets threatens organic Swiss chard and table beets. Seeds for GE beets are grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a major seed growing area, in close proximity to seed production for chard and beets including organic varieties.
“Not listening to the public”
Despite these threats to organic farming, USDA will allow GE alfalfa to be grown without restrictions and allow restricted plantings of GE sugar beets until completion of a court-ordered environmental review next May after which USDA will surely remove the restrictions.
Last spring more than 200,000 people submitted comments to the USDA objecting to the conclusions of the agency’s draft environmental review of GE alfalfa. Another 250,000 public comments were submitted following the release of the final review with the vast majority opposing deregulation.
“Clearly the USDA was not listening to the public or farmers but rather to just a handful of corporations,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, which has spearheaded lawsuits to stop GE alfalfa and sugar beets.
What’s an organic food supporter to do? Two steps:
- Support the legal fight led by the Center for Food Safety.
- Send a letter to President Obama telling him you object to the approval of GE alfalfa.
Ken Roseboro is editor of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, www.non-gmoreport.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.