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Genetically Engineered Alfalfa: Why You Care

When I first saw the headline that the USDA is planning to approve genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa next week, I thought, “Geez, that’s bad. But whatever.” I’m not a huge sprouts gal. But then it hit me, “hey that’s what cows eat” — at least the pastured cows who live on sustainable organic farms and give us organic milk, organic dairy products, and grass-fed beef.

According to an “urgent” email plea, sent out by Gary Hirshberg, “CE-Yo” (cute, huh) of Stonyfield Farm, this is a very important issue to anyone who cares about organic foods. In addition to concerns that GE crops (also called GMOs for genetically modified organisms) lead to pesticide-resistant super-weeds that require the use of more and more toxic chemicals, “the biggest potential problem posed by GE alfalfa is the likely contamination of organic alfalfa, which is used as feed by most organic dairies.”

The decision being made by the FDA is actually not whether to allow GE alfalfa to be grown — apparently that battle has already been lost — but whether to regulate production to ensure (or at least attempt to ensure) that organic alfalfa is protected from mingling with its GE counterpart under a mandate of “coexistence.” While I’m not always a fan of more government regulation, I do think we consumers and eaters deserve to be able to choose to buy organic foods that we know for sure are free of icky GE ingredients.

Here is link to a much more articulate article on the subject.

In case you’re wondering why GMOs are so bad, here’s what the Center for Food Safety, a non-profit public interest advocacy group, has to say on the subject:

Currently, up to 40 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as is 80 percent of soybeans. It has been estimated that upwards of 60 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments–contain genetically engineered ingredients.

A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer. As for environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture will lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction, and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.

Well, all-righty-then. So, what to do? If you’re motivated and believe in the system, I suggest contacting your rep in congress and making sure he or she knows that you know and care about placing restrictions on genetically engineered alfalfa and that you support the integrity of organic farming. And if you want to keep GMOs off your family’s menu, here are a few suggestions:

  • Buy organic food. You are voting with your dollars here, and the more of us who vote for organic foods (which by law are free of pesticides and GE ingredients), the stronger the message we send to farmers, food producers, and the government.
  • Eat food. By “food” I mean real, whole foods and not processed ones (“edible food-like substances” as Michael Pollan calls them). You know there are no GE ingredients in a bag of organic apples. Can’t say the same about NutriGrain bars. This is probably the best way to avoid GMOs.
  • Look for non-GMO certification on the label, if possible. This is useful if you’re buying non-organic things (look for “rBST-Free” on Greek yogurt, etc.), but it doesn’t indicate anything about the use of pesticides.

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This post has 5 comments

  • Kent Watson says:

    Hi Bevin: Its scary what is becoming of our food supply. I recently read an article on the effect that the pizza chains are having on our farmers and dairy supplies. I found the article in Men’s Heath (hard to believe). If you are interested, here’s a link to the entire article. It mentions Leprino foods (based in north Denver) as the largest supplier of mozzarella for the pizza market.

  • Thanks Kent. I read the article. Like we needed yet another reason to not like Dominos!

  • Myra says:

    Do not forget the bees that collect the nectar from alfalfa plants and other plants in the region. Contamination to organic gardens? Contaminated honey? That is why honey cannot be considered organic and GMO free because we cannot control where the bees go. What a shameful mess caused by the people who think they can improve on nature. Perhaps it is just the dollar that makes them want to believe it. Perhaps they just want to control the world’s food supply – money talking again.

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