WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan. 27, 2011)— The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced plans to allow commercial planting of Forage Genetics International’s (FGI) Glyphosate-Tolerant Alfalfa genetically engineered to tolerate St. Louis-based Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide without any federal requirements to prevent contamination of the rest of alfalfa seed and plantings. The genetically engineered technology is licensed exclusively to the seed maker FGI by Monsanto. The expected impact of this decision is far reaching, particularly to organic farmers.
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A Perplexing Situation
“This creates a perplexing situation when the market calls for a supply of crops free of genetic engineering. The organic standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, and consumers will not tolerate the accidental presence of genetic engineered materials in organic products yet GE crops continue to proliferate unchecked,” said Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association (OTA).
She added, “Preserving market and farmer choice and agricultural diversity are central to USDA’s mission and the future of rural American livelihoods. This failure to do so will make it increasingly difficult to meet the growing demand for U.S. organic crops.”
The organic sector is a profitable part of a diverse U.S. agricultural economy—a 26.6- billion-dollar-a-year industry that employs tens of thousands around the country, and helps keep at least 14,540 family farms operating in our rural countryside. Except for 2009, the organic industry has experienced double digit growth—often over 20 percent—annually for over a decade.
Unrestricted commercialization of genetically engineered crops—86 percent of the country’s corn and 93 percent of soybeans—has resulted in widespread unlabeled presence of GE materials in mainstream food products unbeknownst to the average consumer. According to California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, at least 70 percent of processed foods in American supermarkets now contain GE ingredients.
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Genetic Engineering Regulations
The USDA organic program is the only federal food label that prohibits the use of GE crops or materials. Under current USDA policy, the organic sector bears the burden created by unchecked release of GE crops.
While USDA, for the first time, took a step and acknowledged organic and IP agriculture as a stakeholder in decisions around the release of GE crops it is a small step for organic alongside giant steps towards accelerated decisions to deregulate many new GE crops awaiting review at USDA. The organic industry and the loyal consumers of organic products will continue to resist this unrestricted commercialization of GE crops being brought to market by the well-funded and influential biotech industry.
In addition to concerns for the organic sector, many unanswered questions remain regarding genetic engineering. For instance, how does the biotech industry and USDA intend to control the rapid development of superweeds from the overuse of Roundup and other herbicides, analogous to the advent of antibiotic resistance with conventional agriculture’s routine overuse of antibiotics to address overcrowding and growth rather than disease? Also, how do you conduct sound epidemiological science on the long-term health impact of genetically engineered substances that cannot be traced through the food system because foods produced using GE are not labeled as such?
“Until these questions are addressed, the argument that agricultural biotechnology represents ‘sound science’ is just not valid,” Bushway added.