By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Since the Obama Administration approved the unregulated planting of genetically engineered alfalfa (and sugar beets) in January, the organic community has been organizing to repeal the decision.
Organic farmers and food producers fear for their very livelihood — and for the integrity of the organic food supply, because GE (or GM for genetically modified) alfalfa could cross-pollinate with nearby organic crops, causing them to lose their purity and organic certification.
Here are some of the actions that consumers concerned about losing access to organic foods can join:
- The Alliance for Natural Health has set up a web petition to contact lawmakers to reverse the decision deregulation GE alfalfa and sugar beets.
- The Organic Trade Association also has a petition set up to protest to the Obama Administration.
- The Organic Consumers Association has organized two campaigns, Millions Against Monsanto Campaign and Keep Organic Organic.
Biotechnology firms genetically modify crops and plants for a variety of reasons, to try to make them last longer or grow larger. One firm once famously combined fish DNA with tomatoes, which produced tomatoes that were withdrawn from the market.
Another major reason biotech companies alter crop genetics is to build in resistance to weed killers. In the case of the GE alfalfa, released from federal regulation on Jan. 27, Monsanto has engineered the crop to resist applications of the company’s popular weedkiller, Roundup. That allows farmers to spray the alfalfa with Roundup to kill invading weeds (and some say, Monsanto to control the entire plant cycle from seed to harvest).
Roundup, the world’s best-selling herbicide, is an effective weedkiller used on suburban lawns and in agricultural fields.
But critics say that the GE crop/pesticide one-two punch is knocking out more than just the weeds that interfere with the crop. They say that the overuse of this and other pesticides is depleting the soil, creating toxic runoff into water supplies and ultimately, backfiring as “super weeds” develop that are Roundup resistant.
Critics of GE crops also worry that their effects on the animals and humans consuming them are not well studied, leaving a big question mark about their safety.
Some studies have shown that Monsanto’s Roundup, which has been marketed as a friendlier weed killer that allegedly dissipates in the ground, could be fostering pathogens in the soil.
A retired Purdue University professor recently raised concerns about a new pathogen seen in fields in which glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — has been used.
Purdue Professor emeritus, Col. (ret.) Don M. Huber, who’s studied the effects of Roundup for 20 years, has reported seeing a decline in crop hardiness in fields treated with the herbicide.
Called in to study a rise in infertility in dairy cows in certain states, Huber found that the new, unnamed pathogen may have been to blame.
Huber found that Roundup could be unleashing the pathogen, because it was found in higher concentrations in Round Up ready corn and soybeans. The pathogen also appeared to be triggering the failing fertility of the cattle, because it was found in the mothers who had miscarried.
In one case, a herd of dairy cattle fed wheat silage that was “likely” to have been treated with Roundup suffered a 45 percent loss of pregnancies ( 450 of about 1,000 pregnant heifers miscarried).
These findings prompted Huber to write to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in January asking that the government not deregulate Roundup Ready or GE alfalfa, so that more study can be done.
“It is urgent to examine whether the side effects of glyphosate use may have facilitated the growth of this pathogen, or allowed it to cause greater harm to weakened plant and animal hosts. It is well documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases; it dismantles plant defenses by chelating vital nutrients; and it reduces the bioavailability of nutrients in feed, which in turn can cause animal disorders. . .,” Huber wrote.
In his letter, Huber cited his 50 years in the military and academia studying biological threats and germ warfare, concluding that the soil pathogen that appears to emerge in Roundup treated soil should be consider a “high risk” emergency.
Huber told SaferLawns.org that he believes the USDA is taking his warning seriously, but there’s no word yet on Vilsack’s reply.
Concerns about the human effects of GE crops are urgent, critics say, because GM foods are taking over the food supply in the U.S. in the absence of any meaningful independent oversight. Studies attesting to their safety are largely done by their biotech manufacturers. (Read more about GMOs at the Institute for Responsible Technology)
Organic farmers also have an immediate concern, as well, as GE alfalfa can now be grown anywhere, without federal constraints, posing a threat to the fields that they’ve kept pesticide free.
Many are especially worried about cross-contamination from GE alfalfa, because it’s a widespread crop that could easily drift into neighboring fields, and will certainly create more havoc as it moves through the food chain. Because alfalfa is fed to livestock, such as dairy cows, it also threatens organic milk.
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