why i called the white house: the alfalfa crisis

ICALLED THE WHITE HOUSE Friday to register my horror about the USDA’s decision to allow genetically engineered, or so-called Roundup-ready, alfalfa to be planted without restriction, threatening the purity of the organic food supply. I hope you will call or write, too. The comment line is (202) 456-1111, or you can simply fill in the White House contact form. If you don’t know how you feel about the issue, some links that may further inform (or inflame) you:

The biotech alfalfa seed is a product of Monsanto, the people who brought you saccharine (the company’s first product, in 1901) and synthetic bovine growth hormone to increase dairy-cow milk production (perhaps you recall the uproar, after its 1994 approval), and a series of other genetically engineered seed crops, including ones for cotton, soybeans, corn, canola, sugar beets (and now alfalfa).

Genetically modified corn and soy have already been found to have cross-contaminated non-GMO crops, as has canola–and scientists say contamination could be worse with alfalfa, because it’s a perennial, not an annual like the others. Bees apparently move its pollen up to 5 miles, so an organic alfalfa field near one grown from engineered seed risks contamination.

Why care? Can’t you just shop organic and choose to be “safe” from GMOs? If organic alfalfa seed fields are contaminated by the engineered crops, organic beef and dairy cows and other animals from which we derive meat, cheese, milk, yogurt, who are often fed alfalfa, would have ingested it–meaning they are no longer being raised organically, nor GMO-free.

Some highlights (lowlights?) I urge you to read before you call or write the White House:

  • What Rodale News (“Organic Gardening,” “Prevention,” etc.) thinks about all this; a good overview, including steps consumers can take to join the outcry.
  • What SafeLawns thinks (nonprofit organic advocates), including a terrifying staff list of the current USDA, which reads like the former employee directory of Monsanto and Dupont.
  • The Center for Food Safety‘s take, including how spraying may increase sharply with Roundup-ready crops (meaning more chemicals than ever being used), and the fear that “superweeds” will develop as plants get used to all that chemical application.
  • Former “Gourmet” writer Barry Estabrook’s take, from his blog Politics of the Plate.
  1. DonnaLR says:

    Done – both before the USDA allowed and afterwards. Thanks much for the useful links from yourself and other commenters (along with the suggestion to write to Michelle Obama). I was stunned and infuriated when I learned who makes up the current staff at the USDA – what a disappointment!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, DonnaLR. Yes, that staffing roster was a bit of a shock.

      Welcome, Daphne. I am hoping the same strong words went on the contact form at http://whitehouse.gov/contact

      Welcome, Martha. Burbank hybridized, but did not genetically modify (which is to insert, using biotechnology, the genes of another less-closely-related organism than is possible with hybridizing). That technology wasn’t developed until much later, in 1982, when scientists working for Monsanto were able to genetically modify a plant cell for the first time. I believe Burbank also grafted plants to achieve some of his amazing results. I agree with you that solving the world’s hunger problems is a critically important goal, particularly with the population explosion under way worldwide. I hope that it can be accomplished with a concern for the environment in mind as well, as you say without creating more problems.

      Paul: Well, I am tempted to do that, except I don’t want to say anything incorrect (as corporate relationships are so complex — whether people are “divisions” or “partners” or have contracts with one another or who knows what, and what it all means). Am ruminating on how to answer you.

  2. Charlie says:

    I sent my message. This decision must be reversed as it will set the stage for future decisions. Thanks for getting the news out!


  3. Claire Lewis-Jones says:

    Have sent, called and posted to Facebook daily. I am sooo disappointed in the way this was ignored by everyone, including our President. What about this don’t people get? Our food supply will now supply all of the Cancer Hosptals & clinics ~ I had a rare form of bile duct cancer. I lived downwind of Monsanto’s experiment on Maui on papaya & corn. You can’t buy any non gmo’d papayas, even the organic ones were affected. It goes into the soil,there are places here that nothing will grow on.It becomes airborne, birds , bees, wind take it. This is a runaway train we don’t want to be on.
    All I can say is DON”T BUY PRODUCTS THAT contain GMO’s. Plenty of sites to tell you what to avoid. No farmed fish. Tell everyone you know,educate your children , (are they eating gmo’d products in the cafeteria?post on whatever sites you are on,.boycotting is a wonder*ous tool….I pray it’s not too late

  4. Heather D. says:

    Good god! My many if not all gardener friends and I steer clear of all things GMO. USDA ‘Organic’ supported this!? How appalling. USDA isn’t organic anymore.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Heather. The USDA, which does have an organic program, voted this in, yes. Not sure how they think that organic program is going to survive genetic cross-contamination once it inevitably occurs. Crazy stuff.

  5. Lynne says:

    I agree 100% that healthy food should be available to everyone but Monsanto is not the way to get there. When our govt offered GE food to some other countries, they turned it down because it is so bad. Also, look into what they did to the cotton farmers in India and it will make you sick. I lived across from a farmer who grew GE corn and soybeans. They spray constantly. 3 people on my little street wound up with rare cancers. Myself included. We couldn’t move out fast enough. I’m lucky, mine was caught early and I’m fine. The others weren’t so lucky.

  6. Cheryl says:

    As we are certified organic farmers, this issue is much too real to us. I did send my message to the white house on this issue, and also signed another petition to reverse the decision to allow methyl iodide use on strawberry fields. A link to that is here: http://action.panna.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=2784

    A good DVD resource to help understand the perils of GMO crops is “FUTURE OF FOOD”.

    Thank you for your recent article listing seed companies that have pledged to only sell non-GMO seed, it was very helpful.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Cheryl, and thank you for the valuable additions to the conversation. A terrifying set of decisions, one after another.

  7. Steve says:


    What I don’t understand is why are genetically modified seeds or plants bad? We’ve been using hybridization for generations to produce new and better crops. What is the difference between that and GM? Unless you only grow species plants, then you have plants that are already genetically modified in your garden .


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