GMO Alfalfa in the Flathead?



by Catherine Haug, April 3, 2013

(photo, right, from Wikipedia)

Two years ago, on January 27, 2011, the USDA approved Roundup-Ready GMO alfalfa for planting. You can view this history and read pertinent documents on the USDA’s Roundup-Ready Alfalfa website.

Originally, USDA Chief Vilsak had assured Organic growers that there would be restrictions on how close this new crop could be planted to Organic alfalfa fields, but he did not follow through with that promise; instead, he gave a green light to unrestricted planting of this crop. See Grist: In a stunning reversal, USDA chief Vilsack greenlights Monsanto’s alfalfa from Jan 2011.

What does this mean for Flathead farmers and ranchers? What does this mean for those who raise a dairy cow or goat for the family milk?

The impact of GMO alfalfa on food producers

Local dairy, meat producers

It means you cannot trust that the alfalfa hay is GMO-free, even if it is “Organic.” It means that locally-raised meats and dairy products could be GMO-contaminated if the animals were fed local alfalfa, even if the farmer/rancher did not plant GMO seed, because wind-drift could easily contaminate the crop. See End of Organics? Monsanto’s GMO Alfalfa Approved (Jan 2011) for more.

The problem is even worse for non-local meats and dairy from CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), because these animals can now be fed not only GMO corn, GMO soy, but also GMO alfalfa. If you buy non-local, non-Organic meats and dairy, you can be assured the products are GMO-contaminated.

Manure & compost for gardeners and growers

When GM alfalfa hay is fed to livestock, or they are allowed to graze in a pasture containing GM alfalfa, their manure is then GMO-contaminated. If that manure is used to augment compost, or aged for direct application to the soil, the growing medium is then also GMO-contaminated.

This means that Organic growers and home gardeners who regularly use manure or manure-containing compost, may unknowingly use GMO contaminated manure or compost. And this, of course, means that any food grown in that contaminated soil has the potential to be GMO-contaminated.

In short, it means you can no longer trust Organic fresh foods to be GMO-free.

Alfalfa Out-crossing

One of the big concerns about any GMO vegetation is the possibility of out-crossing with related species. For example, GMO canola will out-cross with many members of the cabbage family, and especially with kale, mustard and radish.

The following information on alfalfa out-crossing is from the Center for Environmental Risk Assessment (CERA). Thanks to Libby R. for sharing this with us. I’ve added notes in square brackets, and divided the original single paragraph into separate paragraphs for ease in reading.

Outcrossing (Alfalfa)

The potential for introgression of the glyphosate-tolerance trait [transference of Roundup-Ready genetics] from events J101 and J163 into other alfalfa plants, or to wild or feral relatives of alfalfa, was investigated.

Alfalfa is an outcrossing species, and pollination is achieved by hymenopteran species, such as the leaf cutter bee (Megachile rotundata), honeybee (Apis mellifera), and bumble bee (Bombus spp.).

Alfalfa outcrosses and hybridizes with members of the M. sativa complex [Medicago sativa, or alfalfa] (M. sativa subsp. sativa (cultivated alfalfa), subsp. falcata, subsp. glutinosa, subsp. coerulea, subsp. x tunetana, subsp. x varia, subsp. x polychroa, and subsp. x hemicycla).

There have been reports of natural, but limited hybridization with M. glomerata [mountain tarweed]; this species is indigenous to southern Europe and North Africa, and is not present in North America. M. lupulina (black medick) is an annual weed species indigenous to Europe and common in North America. Black medick does not hybridize with M. sativa.”

You can help

If you know of any farmer/rancher growing GMO alfalfa in the Flathead, please contact me (Cat), and I will alert our local Non-GMO Tipping Point Network (TPN) team to verify.

Farmers growing non-GMO alfalfa, families with dairy animals, and ranchers raising livestock can all then be advised of the possible contamination to their crops, milk and meat. The more people who are aware of the issue, the better chance we have of avoiding total disaster (if it is not already too late).


Please note that there are rumors circulating about GMO alfalfa in Glacier Park and in the Flathead, concerning animal health, etc after exposure to these crops. I do not give credence to the “facts” in these rumors. Please do not spread these rumors until the TPN team gets to the bottom of this, and can report credible fact.

Sampling of suspect plants that might have crossed with GMO alfalfa was done by Sheree T. of the Tipping Point Network (TPN) in 2012, including samples around and within Glacier Park and several locations in the Flathead valley. The samples were sent to a credible lab in Iowa (; the result of these tests indicate NO evidence of GMO-DNA in any of the samples. See “Test Results: Alfalfa-related samples for GM DNA” (this document has been deleted at the request of the Genetic-ID lab, 8/21/14). All samples were taken in and around Glacier Park, from Columbia Falls to Cutbank, and also several locations near Whitefish and Kalispell MT. See also “Protocol for Sampling and Testing of suspect GMO vegetation” (this document has been deleted at the request of the Genetic-ID lab, 8/21/14).

Many of the samples were taken in fields where the affected animals had grazed, so it is highly unlikely that GMO alfalfa is behind the health issues. It  should be noted that pink clover (one of the plants that could cross with alfalfa and included in the sampling/testing) is toxic to livestock, even without GMO-DNA.

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