The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?! It certainly appears to be the case with US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as it issued yet another industry friendly decision. Yesterday, USDA’s Sec. Tom Vilsack announced that genetically engineered alfalfa, that has been modified to withstand repeated application of Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide, will be completely deregulated nation-wide, without any restrictions.
About a month prior to USDA’s deregulation decision, Sec. Vilsack announced that the agency was considering a somewhat middle-of-the-road solution, namely, restrict the growth of genetically engineered alfalfa to protect organic farmers from biotech contamination. Many organic farmers and consumer activists pointed out that even this compromise was insufficient to protect organic farmers from GM contamination. But even this halfhearted proposal did not make its way to USDA’s final decision. Succumbing to pressure from farm groups, biotech companies and Congressmen, in particular, Frank Lucas, Pat Roberts and Saxby Chambliss, Sec. Vilsack quickly tabled any and all ideas that may have hinted at an iota of protection for organic farming.
As reported by the New York Times, Mr. Vilsack said on Thursday that his department would take other measures, like conducting research and promoting dialogue, to make sure that pure, nonengineered alfalfa seed would remain available.
Why do we find the Sec.’s promises hard to digest? Because biotech companies get complete deregulation while organic farmers and consumers get an elusive promise of a future dialogue. An unequal bargain, as far as we are concerned.
And speaking of unequal bargains, how about this reality. Biotech companies (and, in this particular case, the developers of GE alfalfa, Monsanto and Forage Genetics, owned by Land O’Lakes), get to reap profits as a result of USDA’s decision while organic farmers face market loss if genetic engineering is detected in their crops, which occurs through cross-pollination from a nearby field or through intermingling of seeds. Furthermore, the exports of organic and conventional but nonengineered crops to certain countries can be jeopardized if genetically engineered material is detected. In essence, as the Center For Food Safety highlighted, the agency places the entire burden for preventing contamination on non-GE farmers, with no protections for food producers, consumers and exporters.
Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety poignantly stated that:
USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment.
Guess it helps to have friends in right places.