GMO Alfalfa: Why It’s Dangerous

On January 27, 2011, the US Department of Agriculture pretty much gave a green light for Monsanto to sell seeds for its genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets. (Monsanta has been selling seeds for GMO corn and soybeans for years.) Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, is said to have close ties to Monsanto.

Opponents say that planting this alfalfa, which is genetically engineered to withstand direct application of Roundup (if you buy Roundup at Home Depot, in contrast, the directions will tell you to spray it only on the weeds), will increase the use of that herbicide and will lead to cross-pollination with non-GMO alfalfa, contaminating other farmers’ crops. And because alfalfa is used as fodder for cows, the genes from Monsanto’s crops could end up in the beef we eat.

I am not a fan of GMO crops, and I don’t know why farmers would buy them, since they’re not allowed to save seeds from year to year. It’s a sweet deal for Monsanto, which gets to sell new seeds every year, but how is it good for farmers?

But what angers me most about the current situation is the lack of labeling of GMO ingredients in our foods. That labeling is required in Europe, and GMO foods don’t sell there. If labeling of GMO ingredients were required in the United States, those foods would not sell here either. And that’s why they’re not labeled—because Monsanto and all the other companies that benefit from GMO foods know their profits would go down.

The Christian Science Monitor ran an article yesterday about why GMO seeds are undemocratic. The author’s argument is that Monsanto is all about controlling the food supply.

Anyone doubting Monsanto’s obsession with control can just ask the thousands of farmers who have been sued and spied upon for alleged “seed piracy”—at least 2,391 farmers in 19 states through 2006, according to Monsanto website documents obtained by the Washington, DC-based Center for Food Safety (CFS). A report by CFS, using company records, found that “Monsanto has an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers.”

The GM threats to biodiversity and democracy are closely related. When you pair proprietary technology that’s designed to retain company control of seeds (the very lifeblood of our food supply) along with highly concentrated market control, you get a hazardous blend of ecological, economic, and political centralization.

Here’s a quote from a sheet entitled “No to GE Alfalfa!” that I got at Vitamin Cottage, a Colorado-based natural foods and supplements chain:

We have an absolute right to know and choose what we eat, but with the decision to allow widespread cultivation of GE crops, government has taken these freedoms from the American people.

Amen to that. If you want to fight this decision, you could join the Organic Consumers Association Millions Against Monsanto campaign. Or Food Democracy Now‘s campaign, which offers this interesting assertion:

…alfalfa—a perennial legume—does not suffer from the same weed pressures as other crops, such as corn, soybeans, cotton and canola and that is why ninety-three percent of the alfalfa hay in the U.S. does not use any herbicides.

Source: “Control over Your Food: Why Monsanto’s GM Seeds Are Undemocratic,” Christopher D. Cook, Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2011; plus double-sided sheet available at Vitamin Cottage in Lafayette and Food Democracy Now page linked to above