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. Stacy M says:


    Thanks for posting this, it’s a very concerning issue. Our government (Canada) is voting on a bill that would require further testing on February 8th, and I hope it goes through. I have several concerns with GMO as I try to eat mostly organic, but mostly my concern is for my bees. I have a few hives and I don’t know what the repercussions will be for them when their food has changed at the cellular level.

    I hope America will fight back! No one wants to be a guinea pig! I’m glad you called in.

  2. linda says:

    I’ve been following this situation closely, and emailed the White House this morning. Such a disappointing, and as you say, horrifying, (if unsurprising) decision. i feel fortunate we’ve found a local organic farmer who raises chickens, eggs, beef, and pork on pasture. We buy Kalona organic, grass-fed dairy products produced mostly in Iowa. I’m very concerned about the repercussions of this decision for those of us who demand pure, clean, organic, pasture-raised meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy.

    I hope our politicians wake up before its too late. It worries me thinking of what kind of world our children and grandchildren will grow up in with such reckless policies driven by corporate greed and a government deeply entrenched in an unholy alliance with big business at the expense of the health of its citizens and the environment. Really scary stuff. I hope the White House hears from all of us who are outraged by this terrible decision.

  3. kk says:

    I think it is also worthwhile to email Michelle Obama on this score. As a mother, gardener, and someone who professes to be concerned about food and health – she may understand better than her husband how really destructive this is.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thank you all for this.

      And KK, good idea to alert the First Lady, too. I cannot imagine how this can sit with her interests as well.

  4. Delores says:

    I live among the soybean and corn fields of Nebraska, many of which are Roundup Ready. This is such a huge concern and it is appalling that now alfalfa is being included. It’s all about more yield, more $$$. This will be a battle, a worthwhile battle, but battle nevertheless. Thanks Margaret for your leadership in this endeavor.

  5. Lynne says:

    This is just the next thing since S 510 passed. I will email, but it certainly looks like Monsanto has invested in our president. I’m beyond baffled, and upset that he would allow this to happen. He’s either misinformed, or a hypocrite considering Michelle’s organic kitchen garden. I’m keeping my gardening fingers crossed that he’s misinformed.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Lynne, and my hopes seem to echo yours. A very sad time. I read somewhere that more than 250,000 comments against it were filed BEFORE the ruling…and disregarded.

  6. Brian G. says:

    Searching this subject I am shocked by how little coverage it has received from the ‘conventional’ press. Is this simply a result of disinterest by the media or ( to be paranoid) a deeper sign of corruption? Ad dollars are shrinking every day and desperate publishers are caving to the demands of advertisers especially from giants like Monsanto with their deep pockets. The old school separation of church and state in journalism is quickly disappearing. I find it beyond disturbing that there is more coverage about those Kardashian, um, gals, than about the future of our food supply.

  7. kathy says:

    Done! What happened to the Obama commitment to a healthier diet and life style? I guess the lobbyists from Monsanto have been hanging around the White House garden too.

  8. Patrick says:

    I’m a agricultural economics major from Kansas State and I’ve seen the frm lobby from the inside and can vouch for its strength and am not surprised. Just look at the continuation of farm subsides. If the President wanted to get involved he would be taking on the rural community in most of our country since alfafa is grown or fed just about everywhere. With an election coming up, no politician will be brave enough to make a stand on this issue to our disgust..

  9. Tammy says:

    I agree whole heartedly with Patrick ( my daughter is also an agricultural economics major ). I have sent my email as well. i am amazed how certain topics are all over the media ad nauseum, while others are ignored. This is very scary.

  10. commonweeder says:

    One of the serious problems with GMO seed is that because it does not stay where it is planted, but pollinates other fields nearby, farmers who use open pollinated seed can no longer save their own seed because of seed patents. This not only means that farmers lose their organic standing, even farmers who are not organic but like to save their own seed, and money, are no longer permitted to. The seed belongs to Monsanto! Outrageous. And then there is the issue of how we can maintain a diverse gene pool which is so vital when there are pest or disease infestations – or when climate changes – or when who knows what circumstance arises that will require an adjustment in our vital crops.

  11. Just sent my note to the White House. . Thank you, Margaret, for the single best article on this issue I’ve read yet — you outdid the NYT (which did not even see this as front page news).

  12. I just called and will write as well. Thanks for bringing attention to this. I am strongly against all GMO seeds and food for animal or human consumption. This will have negative health consequences for us all.

  13. Paula says:

    Well, the WH Food Safety Czar came from Monsanto.

    Many of the comments were asked/known before the lame duck session approval of the Food Safety Bill S-510 (right before the Christmas break)

    It’s time to re-look S-510 & discover the role & oversight of Monsanto. Laws/repeal are generated in Congress. Consider contacting:

    Your US Rep: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml
    Your US Senator: http://senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

  14. carpsmarsh says:

    Thanks for the heads up! Just because they can do it doesn’t mean they should. I went directly to the White House website and used that form.
    Good Idea to contact Michelle Obama as well. These emails go through so many “assistants” that it sure doesn’t hurt to make sure your voice is heard.
    -And we wonder why we have so many health problems in this country? Just wait another 20 years….

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome and THANK YOU Carpsmarch, Paula, Susan. The more voices the better. And Paula, you are so right — what a joke to have an ex-Monsanto exec running this agenda. Thanks for the further links. Will promote them.

  15. Deb Stenberg says:

    Great summary of the issue and resources, Margaret. I am SO incensed by this. It seems we need to find champions for the issue among our senators and representatives. Isn’t this their job? Or am I being completely naive?

  16. Martha Pendleton says:

    I too am concerned about the effects on our world of products that we make, how they interact with the environment, how they effect organisms downstream, how they make their way into our food chain. I am also concerned about the unethical practices of companies that try to force their products on us. Monsanto is a big offender. But it also bothers me that we all demonize companies for making money off of their products. Come on, people, that is what they are in business for. But I would like to suggest that the individuals in a company, the scientists and engineers, are trying to find solutions to problems. The big problem that Monsanto sees is that there are people starving in this world for lack of food and Monsanto has come up with ways of producing more food. Problem solved? Well, there are other problems as to why people are starving in this world, distribution and corruption just to name a couple of them. The concern we all have is that solving one problem does not justify creating more problems. We DO want our scientists to solve the problems of this world. Luther Burbank was the first person to genetically modify food and other plants and we are all glad that he did that.

  17. Daphne Hill says:

    Dear Sirs:
    We don’t know enough about genetically altered plants to strow them about in the environment. Too many invasives crowd the natural environment threatening and often overpowering a healthy balanced ecosystem. Please don’t throw in some more “stuff” and risk the health of plants that have weathered and passed the trials of time.
    Thank you,
    Daphne Hill
    PO Box 1802
    Pittsboro, NC 27312

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