GENET archive


APPROVALS / PLANTS: Two opinions on GE alfalfa ban

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Organic animal agriculture threatened by genetically engineered
SOURCE: The Cornucopia Institute, USA
AUTHOR: Jim Munsch
DATE:   16.05.2007

Organic animal agriculture threatened by genetically engineered alfalfa

By now many farmers producing organic milk or meat from ruminants have
seen the news about the federal court ruling that the USDA violated the
law by failing to conduct a full Environmental Impact Study before
approving Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa trademarked Roundup
ReadyŽ. The judge's latest ruling in the case bans any further planting
of the GE seed until the USDA conducts a complete Environmental Impact
Statement on the GE crop.

Genetically modified alfalfa presents significantly different challenges
than any other previous GE crop introduction. These differences mean the
introduction of GE alfalfa could have significant economic impact on
producers of organic forage and animal products. The differences
directly relate to the biological differences between alfalfa and the
grain crops and the way seed is produced.

One key difference between the grain crops and alfalfa is the distance
over which pollen is carried. Alfalfa is pollinated by bees carrying
pollen from one plant to another, whereas the grain crops are pollinated
by the action of gravity and air movement. Research and practical
experience have shown that bees can carry pollen for a range of more
than 2 miles, which is much farther than wind-carried pollen.

Another key difference between the two is that seeds for grain crops are
grown over large geographic areas, whereas a large proportion of all
alfalfa seed is grown within compact geographic areas in a handful of
Western states. This is due to climate, topography, and soil type.

The result of these two important differences is that there is a high
probability that cross-pollination will cause significant contamination
of non-GE alfalfa seed with GE alfalfa genetics in a matter of years. In
other words, there will eventually be no truly non-GE or organic alfalfa
seed. This makes the GE alfalfa issue much different for organic
producers than the GE grain issue was.

In fact, where this GM alfalfa is raised, glyphosate-resistant alfalfa
is likely to become a significant weed problem for all producers of
conventional alfalfa or alfalfa seed. For example if there is a seed
company promoting seed that can work in the typical system where
glyphosate is used to terminate a worn-out stand of alfalfa,
contamination with the glyphosate-resistant strain would make their
product unacceptable. Two of the plaintiffs in the case against the USDA
are conventional alfalfa seed producers.

These facts were known at the time the USDA first deregulated Roundup
Ready alfalfa and approved it for sale. The Department declared that non-
GE alfalfa producers should be expected to protect the genetic integrity
of their seed by providing buffer belts. This language came from the
approval of GE grain crops, where this is generally a reasonable,
effective means of protecting non-GE crops from contamination. With
pollen transport measured in miles and not feet, however, it is no
longer a viable method. Taken literally this would mean that an organic
alfalfa seed producer would either require control over land in a two-
or three-mile radius surrounding the fields where the seed is produced
or would need to grow it in a greenhouse. These methods are not
economically feasible.

The USDA also recognized there would be contamination but still stated
that non-GE alfalfa seed would "likely" be available for those who
wanted it. Respected people in the alfalfa seed business say this is not
the case, and that it will be difficult, at best, to find areas in which
to grow non-GE-contaminated seed with any certainty. Undoubtedly, the
"safe" areas found will be in different locations than are currently
used, requiring non-GE seed producers move their operations. The
financial risks involved in relocating non-GE seed production is an
unknown. If such areas can be found, it is certain that the cost of
production and the price of the seed will be increased.

One possibility might be seed grown in foreign countries that have
legislated against all GE crops and have the climates, soils, and
topography suitable for alfalfa seed production. However, it is
reasonable to expect that the cost of transporting and importing will be
high, and flexibility of supply limited.

For organic forage and livestock producers the stakes are high. The
introduction of a genetically engineered alfalfa in the United States
would quickly lead to either no organic seed being available, or seed
available at very high prices from limited U.S. growing areas or from
international sources. These alternatives are not attractive.

We could eliminate alfalfa from our production systems. But the most
likely replacements are the clovers, which have significantly lower
yields. In addition, the highest-yielding clover with comparable protein
is red clover, and it is a biennial requiring reseeding every two years
in the best case. This alternative would increase cost significantly
because of the need to harvest more acres to get the same total yield
and because of at least double the cost of establishment due the short
life of the plant. Those who are old enough to remember making clover
hay can think of a whole host of reasons to avoid this alternative.

Or is the assumption at the USDA that organic producers could "just live
with it?" This may, indeed be the case. There is a certain hubris in the
areas of government dealing with food production and safety that the
desires of consumers don't count--that consumers don't understand nor
should they be bothered with how food is produced. But the organic
movement is built on the purchases of consumers who do understand and
who do bother to know how their food is produced. And these consumers
have spoken loudly with their purchases that they do not want
genetically altered food and that they don't want to buy meat or dairy
products from animals that have been raised on genetically altered food.

Jim Munsch is a certified organic livestock producer from Coon Valley,
Wisconsin and member of The Cornucopia Institute. He was the group's
representative in the lawsuit successfully brought against the USDA for
its illegal approval of genetically altered alfalfa.

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                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Roundup Ready alfalfa seed ban a totally ludicrous legal decision
SOURCE: Western Farm Press, USA
AUTHOR: Harry Cline
DATE:   16.05.2007

Roundup Ready alfalfa seed ban a totally ludicrous legal decision

Ludicrous, absurd, unbelievable, preposterous -- those just a few
descriptive terms for California Federal District Court Judge Charles
Breyer's decision to halt the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed.

Not only did he suspend the sale of herbicide-resistant seed for two
years, he put RR alfalfa in the same category as child molesters. I am
surprised he didn't make producers now farming RR alfalfa seed and
forage fields wear ankle monitoring bracelets like criminals.

He almost went that far when he ordered Forage Genetics to GPS-identify
220,000 acres of alfalfa seed and forage fields and post those fields on
the Internet.

For what? Superfund waste sites? Radioactive waste storage sites?

No -- alfalfa containing a totally harmless protein. Alfalfa that cows,
women and children can eat, walk in, munch on, sniff, and experience
with not one harmful effect.

All this to appease a bunch of radicals bent on destroying the American
economy, and to mollify a couple of obscure seed companies that think a
protein may contaminate conventional or organic alfalfa (or are angry
they did not get a license to sell Roundup Ready alfalfa).

One of the companies sells almost nothing but genetically modified
alfalfa varieties resistant to pests and diseases. How did the alfalfa
Geertsen sells become resistant? Through genetic modification.

Wonder what Geertsen and Trask would think if some judge ordered their
farms mapped and GPS'd on the Internet for the world to see, on the
totally absurd notion something they're doing might be harmful? Wonder
what the plaintiff's lawyers would think if their cars were ordered
equipped with tracking devices just because a judge decided they might
be harmful to the environment?

So what if the glyphosate-resistant gene gets into another alfalfa
field? You may be able detect it, but what harm will it do? None.

And let's get off the glyphosate-resistant mega-weed kick.

Sure, there are issues with glyphosate-resistant weeds. But, let's put
the issue in perspective: There are exactly 12 of 314 herbicide-
resistant weeds worldwide identified as resistant to glyphosate.

The Weed Science Society of America says the No. 1 herbicide class for
weed resistance is ALS inhibitors, with 95 resistant weeds. Atrazine has
66; Diclofop-methyl (Hoelon, Illoxan, Hoe-Grass), 35; 2, 4-D, 25 weeds;
paraquat, 23; chlorotoluron, 21 -- all those before the list lands on

Certainly, glyphosate-resistance is a serious issue, largely because of
the explosion of herbicide-resistant crops. Can producers do anything
about it?

For one thing they can go to their equipment yards and find the disks
and cultivators covered by weeds. They can a herbicide other than
glyphosate to kill weeds.

Sorry judge, the world will not end because 12 weeds are resistant.

And don't accuse me of owning Monsanto stock or being on the Monsanto
payroll. It won't fly. I think there is a half empty plastic jug of 3
percent Roundup in the garage. That is my total involvement with Monsanto.

Monsanto, Forage Genetics, Farm Bureau, and other farm organizations
must appeal this ridiculous decision to protect American agriculture
from a threat far more insidious than any transgenic gene or weed.

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