Despite a strong and vocal opposition, genetically engineered (GE) Roundup-resistant alfalfa was approved in late 2011. At the time, many environmental and organic experts spoke out against it, warning that its approval could be devastating not just for the environment in general, but also for conventional alfalfa growers, and organic farmers in particular.
This includes organic animal products, as dried alfalfa is the hay they’re typically fed during winter months.
Phil Bereano, a co-founder of AGRA watch, argued that by deregulating the planting of GE alfalfa, the USDA was in direct contravention to its obligations under law and court decisions.
A 2007 trial judge had already found that alfalfa farmers had established a reasonable probability that their conventional alfalfa crops would be contaminated with the engineered Roundup Ready gene if deregulation occurred.
Toxicology and plant pathology expert Dr. Don Huber also pointed out that once you insert new genes into a perennial insect-pollinated plant like alfalfa, there’s no way to prevent cross-fertilization and contamination, and it cannot be eliminated once it’s distributed throughout an area.
Of course, the possibility of cross-contamination between GE alfalfa and non-GE crops was downplayed as insignificant. But it didn’t even take two years for this possibility to rear its ugly head.
Washington State Testing Alfalfa Crops for GMO Contamination
On September 11, the Baltimore Sun1 broke the news that Washington State agriculture officials were alerted that GMO contamination was confirmed after a farmer’s hay was rejected for export.
Alfalfa is the fourth-largest crop in the US and a staple feed for livestock—including organically-raised livestock—so contamination is not to be taken lightly. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 17 million acres of alfalfa were grown last year, worth about $8 billion. A total of $1.25 billion-worth of hay, including alfalfa, was exported.
“If it is confirmed that the alfalfa in question was genetically modified, it could have broad ramifications, said Hector Castro, spokesman at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. "It's a sensitive issue," Castro said.
Biotech alfalfa is approved for commercial production in the United States. But many foreign and domestic buyers require that supplies not be genetically modified, and the possible presence of GMO modified alfalfa in export supplies could result in lost sales for US farmers. ... ACX Pacific - a major exporter of alfalfa and other hay off the Pacific Northwest to countries that include Japan, Korea, China and parts of the Middle East - will not accept any GMO because so many foreign buyers are so opposed to it.
And domestic organic dairy farmers have said that any contamination of the hay they feed their animals could hurt their sales. "This is terribly serious," said Washington state senator Maralyn Chase, a Democrat who fears alfalfa exports could be lost if it is proven that GMO alfalfa has mixed in with conventional supplies.”
Washington State Readies for GMO Labeling Vote
The news of potential contamination couldn’t come at a more crucial time as Washington State readies to vote on GMO labeling in November. Initiative 522, "The People's Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," will require food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered ingredients.3
As in last year’s California Proposition 37 GMO labeling campaign, the opposition from industry is fierce. According to the Public Disclosure Commission,4 the “No On 522” campaign has already raised more than $11 million. Monsanto leads the charge, having donated close to $4.8 million to the anti-labeling campaign, followed by Dupont and The Grocery Manufacturers Association.
GE Glyphosate-Resistant Food Crops Promote Human Disease
One of the primary concerns about GE crops has to do with its resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. About 85 percent of all our genetically engineered plants are herbicide-tolerant—designed to tolerate very high levels of herbicides, glyphosate in particular. These are the so-called Roundup Ready crops, alfalfa included.
As a side note, glyphosate-resistant alfalfa was approved even though more than 93 percent of the alfalfa crop at the time was NOT being treated with herbicides. There really was no need to make it Roundup resistant in the first place.
The Oregoneans for Farm & Food Rights5 estimates that Roundup Ready alfalfa results in the application of another 200,000 pounds of Roundup annually by American farmers. Monsanto is truly the only winner in this scheme, boosting sales of Roundup and selling GE alfalfa seeds for twice the price as other proprietary seed varieties.6 The decision was also a “perfect” one if the intent is to eventually decimate organics, as contamination is inevitable—both of organic alfalfa crops and organic livestock.
The decision to promote the use of Roundup on what was basically an herbicide-free crop to begin with matters a great deal when it comes to human health.
Research reveals that glyphosate is unlike other conventional herbicides. Like many other herbicides it’s a mineral chelator. This means it immobilizes nutrients, making them physiologically unavailable for your body, or the body of an animal, in the case of livestock feed. But glyphosate is also patented as an antibiotic against a large number of organisms, and this is where it veers away from other agricultural chemicals. Like all antibiotics, it kills indiscriminately, so it also decimates critically beneficial soil bacteria, as well as animal - and human gut bacteria.
In fact, groundbreaking research by Dr. Seneff and Samsel reveals that your gut bacteria are a key component of glyphosate’s mechanism of harm, as the microbes in your gut have the same pathway used by glyphosate to kill weeds and are decimated by the glyphosate! So please recognize that virtually every GM food you eat will harm your precious gut bacteria.
Glyphosate was patented and introduced as an herbicide by Monsanto in 1974. Twenty two years later, in 1996, genetically modified Roundup Ready crops hit the market. Since then, there’s been a steep and steady uptick in the usage of Roundup, because you can apply it multiple times without damaging your crop. Making matters worse, they’re now also using glyphosate as a ripening agent—even for non-GMO crops. And, as just mentioned, they made alfalfa glyphosate-resistant even though the vast majority of alfalfa growers didn’t have the need for such a product in the first place.
Now, groundbreaking research suggests that glyphosate is probably the most harmful chronic toxin we’ve ever encountered, and may be the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become so prevalent in Westernized societies. Dr. Seneff and Samsel’s research shows that two of the key problems caused by glyphosate in the diet are Nutritional deficiencies, and Systemic toxicity.
The Case Against Coexistence of GMO and Non-GMO
In 2011, when the approval of genetically engineered alfalfa was still under discussion, there was quite a bit of talk about whether or not GMO crops could coexist with non-GMO crops. In the end, the White House directly intervened with the USDA and told them in no uncertain terms that they didn’t want any restrictions on Monsanto's alfalfa, which made the notion of coexistence a moot point.
Anyone with any kind of understanding of how it works fully expected, and still expects, cross-pollination to occur10 as a matter of course. Honey bees can transfer pollen several miles. Birds can carry seed even farther... As plant pathologist Dr. Huber recently told me:
“We know how to get these genes in; we don’t know how to remove them. I don’t see any opportunity for coexistence with the current technology that we have because of that promiscuous nature of the genes. If you have a gene that is spread by pollen, like Roundup Ready alfalfa, it’s just a matter of time before those bees or the wind will transfer that particular pollen to every alfalfa crop that you’re going to grow. There’s a high enough probability that you’re going to see that genetic component in it.”
So what’s the answer? For starters, Americans need foods to be labeled, indicating whether or not a food contains genetically engineered ingredients. At that point, the market place will likely help shift farmers away from GE crops as more people will opt for non-GMO fare.