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Feb 012011

A new coalition fears that GE alfalfa is just the beginning of a GE food takeover.

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Organic farmers, food companies and advocacy groups have united to oppose the deregulation of Monsanto’s genetically engineered alfalfa.

A new 20-group coalition announced Tuesday that it also would be fighting the regulatory release of other types of GE (or GM or genetically modified) crops expected in the coming months as the USDA considers deregulating GE sugar beets, corn and soy crops.

These crops have been engineered by large biotech companies, predominantly Monsanto to resist specific proprietary pesticides, such as the “Roundup Ready” alfalfa, which was approved for unrestricted planting by the USDA last week.

Monsanto holds that its GE crops increase yields, and hailed the Jan. 27 USDA decision to allow the unrestricted planting of GE alfalfa as a positive for farmers “waiting for the green light to plant Roundup Ready alfalfa.”<

Organic farmers, though, fear the spread of GE crops because these crop varieties are dependent on powerful pesticides, which harm the soil and pollute waterways. They also object to GE crops because they can contaminate non-GE fields via cross-pollination. When GE crops invade organic fields, they destroy the purity of the organic operation and can cost a farmer his organic certification.

This “genetic drift” jeopardizes the health of U.S. organic farming, and its consumer constituents, the group said in a statement.

Because the USDA’s decision on GE alfalfa affects the “interests of conventional and organic farmers, preservation of the environment, and consumer choice,” the Center for Food Safety said in the statement that it would be suing over the USDA’s decision. In a separate action, the Center has filed a brief with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, joining the case against the release of GE Sugar Beets.

Those who’ve signed onto the new coalition include several leaders in the organic movement, such as Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm; George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley; Michael Pollan, author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Robert Kenner, director of the documentary about the secrecy behind industrially produced food, Food Inc., and Organic Manifesto author Maria Rodale of Rodale Inc.

Aside from the direct threat of cross-pollination, farmers who grow organic crops and many who grow conventional non-GE crops worry that Monsanto will pursue them legally if their fields are found to contain Monsanto crops that blew in accidentally. The St.Louis-based global chemical giant has a history of aggressively pursuing farmers who unwittingly and unwillingly end up with GE-contaminated crops in their fields.

The new coalition lashed out at the USDA for being swayed by big biotech companies (Monsanto and others), while ignoring what it says was widespread public criticism of allowing GE Alfalfa to be planted anywhere.

“Last spring more than 200,000 people submitted comments to the USDA highly critical of the substance and conclusions of its draft EIS on GE Alfalfa. Instead of responding to these comments and concerns, including expert comments from farmers, scientists, academics, conservationists, and food safety and consumer advocates, the USDA has chosen instead to listen to a handful of agricultural biotechnology companies,” the coalition said in its news release.

Many food groups have worried that GE farming techniques produce genetically altered food, which hasn’t been well studied.

If additional GE crops are approved for unregulated planting, many more toxic pesticides will be introduced into the environment, including pesticides such as 2-4Dioxane and Dicamba, the coalition reported. It called upon all allies in the conventional and organic food and farming enterprises to band together to fight this now-anticipated expansion of GE crops and chemicals.

Those who want to follow or support this coalition can:

The signers to the coalition are:

  • Christine Bushway, Organic Trade Association
  • Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides
  • Michael Funk, United Natural Foods Inc (UNFI)
  • Elizabeth Henderson, NOFA Interstate Council
  • Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Farm
  • Liana Hoodes, National Organic Coalition
  • Kristina Hubbard, Organic Seed Alliance
  • Faye Jones, Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Service
  • Robby Kenner, Robert Kenner Films
  • Andrew Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety
  • Russell Libby, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners (MOFGA)
  • Ed Maltby, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA)
  • Robyn O’Brien, Allergy Kids
  • Keith Olcott, Equal Exchange
  • Michael Pollan, Author
  • Maria Rodale, Rodale Inc.
  • Eric Schlosser, Author
  • Robynn Schrader, National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA)
  • Corinne Shindelar, Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA)
  • George Siemon, Organic Valley
  • Michael Sligh, Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)
  • Megan Westgate, Non-GMO Project
  • Maureen Wilmot, Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF)
  • Enid Wonnacott, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT)

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