USDA Secretary Chooses Favorite Son By Approving GE Alfalfa
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack did the deed yesterday — he gave the official nod to the “unrestricted commercial cultivation” of genetically modified alfalfa. Surprised? We shouldn’t be. Vilsack once attributed his seemingly centrist views of agriculture to his love for both of his “sons”: big agribusiness and small farms. “I have two sons and I love them both,” he said. Maybe so. But it’s pretty obvious which one is the golden child: Big Ag.
This green light means that producers of GE alfalfa will be ready to plant their crops as soon as this spring. According to the New York Times, Vilsack said that the government was obligated to approve GE alfalfa since the USDA’s environmental impact statement says it’s safe to grow. The department did consider the impacts that GE alfalfa could have on organic and non-GE crops; but then it once again caved to pressure from big agribusiness to approve it in time for the planting season.
A recently as December, Vilsack looked as though he was leaning toward a strategy that he called alfalfa production “coexistence,” a plan that made both big ag and food policy advocates cringe. But, instead of refocusing the USDA’s efforts to craft an alternate compromise or to take enough time to fully understand if such coexistence was even possible,Vilsack chose the worst possible option when he approved unrestricted use of GE alfalfa.
The New York Times reported that, along with the approval of GE alfalfa, Vilsack promised to “conduct research” and “promote dialogue” to ensure coexistence between GE, non-GE and organic crops. This promise — outlined briefly in a fact sheet available on USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) site — established some critical goals for his coexistence plan, including the reestablishment of two USDA advisory committees and an effort to more closely analyze things like seed quality and grower choice. It also included a plan to conduct research concerning genetic integrity; and alfalfa seed production and preservation.
All of these ideas could be incorporated into a feasibility/risk assessment of GE alfalfa, but the ideal time to conduct that research and reestablish those committees would be BEFORE one introduces an X factor like GE alfalfa into the situation with no restrictions.
Meanwhile, this herbicide-tolerant crop threatens the livelihoods of organic farmers due to widespread GE contamination. Organic farmers take great commercial risks to ensure their product is 100 percent free of hormones, antibiotics and genetic modifications. Since the pollen from GE seeds, like all other seeds, can spread with the wind, this compromises the standards that organic farmers work to protect and can void the value of their product.
Vilsack said, “We think the decision reached today is a reflection of our commitment to choice and trust.” Choice and trust for whom? Growers of conventional or organic crops have now been stripped of their choice. They even run the risk of being sued by companies like Monsanto for seed piracy or patent infringement if GE seeds from nearby farms infect their crops. As for trust, the agency’s failure to consider the far-reaching effects of GE alfalfa on farmers and consumers reverberates more strongly than their rhetoric.
Since Vilsack completely abandoned his efforts to compromise — however misguided they were — by approving GE alfalfa without restrictions, his real message is now quite clear. We now know which son of agriculture is truly his favorite: the one that went to business school.
Please join us in asking President Obama to step in and overturn this approval. If you care about the integrity of the food you eat, take immediate action to stop this approval.