GMO Alfalfa, Sugar Beets deregulated by USDA; updated

by Catherine Haug, February 2, 2011; updated February 17, 2010

Recap of developments: January 28, 2011, the USDA approved and deregulated GMO alfalfa. February 4, 2011 the USDA approved another planting of GMO sugar beets, despite a federal judge’s ruling against the crop in 2010.

Now, according to a Feb 16, 2011 article on Natural News, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) plans to sue the USDA and Monsanto over GMO alfalfa just as it successfully sued over GMO sugar beets last year.

What is GMO/GE? What does this have to do with Organics and Sustainability? Read on for more on all of these topics.

GMO Crop Approvals

Approval of GMO Sugar Beets

Last year (2010) a federal judge ordered that a GM sugar beet crop be uprooted and destroyed because it was illegally planted, after the Center for Food Safety (CFS) sued both the USDA and Monsanto over the crop, because it was not approved with a proper Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

However the USDA has recently approved another planting of this GMO crop, despite the judge’s ruling last year. Expect to hear more on this in the future.

See Organic Consumers Assoc. article Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets Get Go-Ahead From USDA or NY Times article U.S. Says Farmers May Grow Engineered Sugar Beets by A. Pollack, Feb 4, 2011 for more.

Approval & Deregulation of GMO Alfalfa

In a devastating blow to Organic agriculture, the USDA has completely deregulated roundup-ready (GMO) alfalfa. Deregulation means that this genetically-engineered crop can now be grown commercially, endangering non-GMO alfalfa crops by transgenic contamination and Organic agriculture in general by the increased use of herbicides on this important feed crop for cattle and other livestock.

The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) has issued an Action Alert, and reports:

“The Center for Food Safety has announced it will file a lawsuit against the USDA over the decision, and ANH-USA will try to become a co-plaintiff in that suit. … Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have issued a statement condemning the USDA decision.”

Subsequent to the January decision, the Center for Food Safety plans to sue both the USDA and Monsanto over the decision. See Natural  CFS to sue USDA for deregulating GM alfalfa, February 16, 2011 by: Ethan A. Huff.

Why is the approval of GMO alfalfa so disastrous for sustainability and those who believe in eating Organic?

What is GMO/GE?

GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) and GE (Genetically Engineered) foods are altered at the DNA (genetic) level, not by traditional breeding methods, but by micro-surgically inserting genetic material from one species (for example a bacteria) into the genetic material of another species (for example, corn or alfalfa). As the cell containing this modification divides to create 2 new cells, that modification is replicated in each new cell. This continues affecting every new cell in that modified species.

Thus, every cell in the GMO alfalfa plant contains genetic material from another species entirely. This is important because the genetic material governs all the activities of the cell and the plant, and may also transmit that change to the animal that eats the plant.

GMO alfalfa and sugar beets are modified to be “Roundup Ready,” so that when it is sprayed with heavy doses of the herbicide (Roundup), the crop will survive when all other plants around it die from the effect of the herbicide.

How does GMO alfalfa affect Organic foods?

Along comes an innocent cow, llama, goat or other manure-producing creature. After the animal eats the modified & sprayed alfalfa, its digestive system goes to work, ultimately producing manure. This manure contains the modified genetic material and the Roundup herbicide from the alfalfa.

Then an Organic gardener/farmer buys the manure to augment his soil. He plants his lettuce seeds in the manure-rich soil. Will the herbicide in the affected manure prevent his seeds from sprouting or growing into a lush lettuce plant? If it does grow to maturity, will the lettuce take up the altered genetic material from the manure, making it no longer truly “Organic” and free of the GE material?

Will an unsuspecting human take up the altered genetic material from the lettuce in his salad? Will this altered genetic material cause allergies in the human?

These are all questions that need to be answered by testing and long-term research. But one thing is certain: Organically raised produce and livestock will never be the same again; the term “Certified Organic” will lose its value.

Even if the farmer grows his own Organic alfalfa and raises his own livestock fed on his own alfalfa to produce manure for his crops, it is possible that some of his alfalfa seed has been contaminated from errant GMO alfalfa seed. At least this farmer will not use Roundup so the manure will not contain the herbicide. But it could still contain GE material from the contaminated alfalfa.

The Sustainability Factor

Besides GMO’s affect on the future of Organics, it also affects the sustainability of our planet. The production of herbicides, insecticides and synthetic fertilizers that go along with growing GMO crops requires huge amount of energy. And this energy requires the burning of precious fuels that are rapidly being depleted.

Farm chemicals may also be largely responsible for the decimation of honey bees, deformed fish and frogs, and may prove to endanger more species as time goes forward — even the human species.

For more information

On the harm of chemical herbicides

On GMO and GMO vs Organic:

On the GMO Alfalfa Decision

On GMO Sugar Beets

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