J500 Media and the Environment

Alfalfa officially has my hairs on end by jmuselmann
Often the toupee of any veggie sandwich and a common stand-in for lettuce in burgers and wraps, alfalfa is the poster boy for wholesome food from the farm. But lately it has had its genetic wires crossed, possibly becoming the latest addition to a long list of genetically engineered foods.

Let me explain it simply: In 2006, Monsanto, in an unsurprising feat of science, made alfalfa seeds that were able to resist its million-dollar baby, RoundUp. And it took the U.S. Department of Agriculture about as long as it takes to find a pen to approve it. The process was so rushed that no one noticed that the USDA forgot to provide an environmental impact statement before deregulation, which is required by law. In 2007, the Center for Food Safety, farmers, and a few other groups filed suit and successfully halted the baby GMO.

Monsanto has stolen away a few of Mother Nature’s kids, messed with them, and wants to hold them for ransom. These clover-looking leaflets may have run out of luck. The implications are further reaching than simply the occasional sprouts beneath the bun (they were so unpopular at the University of Kansas, where I attend, that they aren’t served anymore)—feeding GMO to our livestock jeopardizes the entire dairy industry’s claim to the “organic” label (and by extension, to ours).

Under this scenario, farmers would be penalized even for inadvertently growing the prize GMO, which, unlike corn, is further pollinated by bees (and bees cannot be sued or controlled by Monsanto, yet).

Much of the business that comes from alfalfa is in exports. In fact, the Pacific Rim countries buy nearly all of their hay from the United States. Even if the new sprouts passed the restrictions, it is doubtful the Japanese would even accept the new, lab-born food. After all, they have been monitoring food chemical and GMO safety since 1991. The USDA has now filed the EIS, and it basically reiterates the initial decision to allow the new seed. Now, the case, Geerston v. Monsanto, faces the Supreme Court on Feb. 16.

But do a few artificially warped genes really matter? In an email to me, Bryce Stephens, a Kansas organic alfalfa farmer, put it this way:

“I have some friends (organic producers) in the bluegrass region of Kentucky where the racetrack horses are bred and grown. The race horse owners buy organic alfalfa because they get better performance and health if the horse eats organic alfalfa. in other words organic alfalfa wins races. It’s a trade secret, they won’t admit it. They also don’t admit buying gmo chemical alfalfa to feed the competitors horse so they get sick and run slow.”

Go here to help nip GMO alfalfa in the bud.

—Jacob Muselmann


4 Comments so far
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I have a clarification question: you said that the GMO alfalfa would hurt the organic dairy system… but aren’t cows who provide organic dairy grass-fed and free range? But that is definitely true about Japan. It’s too bad that we consider ourselves to be the “best country in the world” yet we aren’t anywhere near the top of the list for healthy humans or a healthy food system-Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

“Grass-fed” can include alfalfa hay. At Organic Valley, livestock diet is 60% alfalfa on average. Part of the “organic” label requires no GMOs, and so if the Roundup Ready alfalfa is approved, it would eventually undermine the label, making “organic” as useless and deceptive as “natural” is.
–Jacob M.

Comment by jmuselmann

Interesting. I’m trying to learn more about the subject, because I think there are pros and cons to genetically modified crops. We should proceed with caution, but at the same time we should not block what potentially can be a means of increasing food production. Penn & Teller, the libertarian pundits, offer some food (pardon the pun) for thought (Norman Borlaug is a Nobel Prize winning scientist):

Comment by Sexist Stay-at-home Dad

I was very intrigued by your blog post. Usually, when i think of genetically altered foods, I think of simple lettuce and carrots. I don’t think I have thought of alfalfa as being one to get its “genetic wires” crossed. It just shows that people, myself being one of them, need to be more aware of the foods we are buying. I think you brought up a very good point, in that regulations for what is considered “organic” cannot be skewed at all.

— Tess Hedrick

Comment by tesshedrick

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