Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Comments on Round-up Ready Alfalfa Decision

Some follow up comments on the deregulation of Round-up Ready (RR) Alfalfa.  See Andrew's informative post about the recent USDA decision.

Secretary Vilsack proposed an approach he termed coexistence in an open letter to stakeholders on December 30, 2010.  His plan was to allow the planting of RR alfalfa, but to impose restrictions that would attempt to protect neighboring farmers from cross-pollination.  The USDA's Environmental Impact Statement confirms that cross pollination will be a problem, and that the rights of alfalfa growers who wish to grow organic or even just non-RR alfalfa will likely be infringed.

Organic feed is needed in the production of both organic dairy products and organic meat.  Alfalfa is an extremely important feed source, particularly in the winter in colder climates.   

Some in the biotechnology industry and non-organic agriculture reacted to the suggestion of "co-existence" with great anger, some calling for Secretary Vilsack's firing.   When the decision to de-regulate and abandon the co-existence agenda was issued, their reaction was positive.  Representatives of the National Corn Growers Association thanked Vilsack "for keeping grower choice as a priority. . .  A clean, full deregulation . . . lets farmers plant the kind of alfalfa they choose this spring.”

Choice. It seems that many people seemed to have missed the point of co-existence.  Farmers could choose to plant RR alfalfa, but they would have to do so in a manner that did not infringe on the choice of their neighbors to not grow RR alfalfa. 

There is already a shortage of organic livestock feed, raising prices and limiting domestic availability.  In order to meet increasing U.S. demand for organic products, we import significant amounts organic food. Despite the recession, consumers' interest in organic products continues to rise.  In a free market society, shouldn't consumers have the choice to purchase organic food if they want?

Proponents of organic agriculture will proceed with litigation challenging the USDA decision. Nuisance suits will likely be brought by farmer's whose fields are contaminated, prompting farmer vs farmer litigation.  Monsanto may even sue farmers for the unlicensed use of RR alfalfa when it is discovered in their fields.

And all this to what end?  In a recent note, Michael Pollan referred to RR alfalfa as "a bad solution to a non-existent problem."  He noted that "[a]lfalfa is a perennial grass that doesn't suffer from serious weed problems. In fact, ninety-three percent of alfalfa fields receive no herbicide at all."  Moreover, thanks largely to the overuse of Round up, it is "well on its way to obsolescence."  Weeds resistance to Round Up has been a significant and increasing problem throughout the country, and that is only expected to increase.  

Let's hope that farmers choose to plant regular-old alfalfa, rejecting the costly new patented product now on the market.

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