Days ago, I published a post called “3 Major Organic Brands Surrender To GE Alfalfa.” This post drew both support and criticism from the real food community, and attention from the companies named in it.
My point of writing the article was to inform those who regularly consume these organic products that the companies behind them were now supporting a “coexistence” policy in which they would trust the USDA to keep GE alfalfa from contaminating both organic and conventional alfalfa.
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I used statements from each of the companies’ official sites to demonstrate this stance. I considered these statements odd and disappointing, since contamination of organic alfalfa would render their brands meaningless.
“Just from the gene flow, within five years of Roundup Ready alfalfa, there will be no such thing as non-Roundup Ready alfalfa, regardless of restrictions government puts on it,” says Don Huber, PhD, professor emeritus at Purdue University and APS coordinator for the USDA’s National Plant Disease Recovery System (Rodale.com).
In my opinion, when two of the country’s largest producers of organic dairy products and the country’s largest “natural” grocer tell their consumers that it’s no longer possible to demand non-GE alfalfa from our government, it communicates an attitude of surrender.
The companies, however, say that the USDA never gave them the option of a total ban on GE alfalfa (even though one was already in place), and they were only trying to choose the lesser of two evils for their industry.
From the Whole Foods’ Blog:
Many people have asked us why we endorsed the coexistence option rather than an outright ban on GE alfalfa. That was never an option in Washington! The USDA presented the industry with only two options that they were considering– deregulation and deregulation with restrictions. Given the pervasive planting of GE crops in the U.S. – 93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton and 93% of canola seed planted were genetically engineered in the U.S. in 2010 – the option of an outright ban was not on the table.
From the CEO of Stonyfield Farms:
In December, to no one’s surprise, the USDA took a complete ban of GE alfalfa off the table as an option, leaving only two choices: complete deregulation or deregulation with some safeguards to protect organic farmers, which they called “co-existence.” The choice we were faced with was to walk away and wait for the legal battle in the courts or stay at the table and fight for safeguards that would attempt to protect organic farmers and consumer choice, still maintaining the option for legal battle later. A smaller coalition of organic interests participated in the meetings with the clear caveat that any decision to deregulate GE alfalfa must include restrictions that protect organic farmers and consumers’ choice. When faced with the overwhelming reality that GE alfalfa would be released despite our best efforts, we believed fighting for some safeguards to protect organic consumers and organic farmers was the best option. (In-text link was added).
Organic Valley also issued a follow up statement. It offers little clarification of why they chose to support the “coexistence” option, but you can read it for yourself, here.
Here is a December 2010 summary of the Final Environmental Impact Statement on Roundup Ready Alfalfa, which states “APHIS considered three alternatives in the final EIS” including maintaining regulated status. Later in the document it states that the USDA listed two preferred options, neither of which were full regulation.
As a consumer, an organic advocate, and opponent to any and all GE foods, it was hard for me to read these “wait and see” and “best option given the circumstances” statements. I responded with passion and from my heart, but creating division and a distraction from the real issue and responsible party (the USDA) was an unfortunate side-effect.
Please read the full statements from these companies for yourself, and make up your own mind about whether they align with your food values–right now, coexistence does not align with mine.
The good news is that food safety organizations are already filing suit to bring this issue before the courts again, so it’s possible that the decision could be overturned. Please continue to fight for full regulation of GE alfalfa and the integrity of organic foods.
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