GM Alfalfa… again

An issue that may affect any of us who like to buy organic food is rearing its head south of the border. In Canada, a large percentage of our organic foods are imported from the US, so anything they do affects us directly as consumers. In the last (failed) attempt to get GE labelling on our foods in this country, our own politicians told us that if we wanted to buy GE-free products, we should buy organic.

In 2007, Monsanto was blocked temporarily and nationally from introducing genetically engineered alfalfa into the US, because they had failed to do an environmental impact study proving no harm to other farmers (etc.). They have fought this ruling up to the American supreme court, which expects to rule on the matter by the end of June, and reapplied to the USDA to introduce their GE substance again. The matter is to be decided by mid-February when the USDA releases its environmental impact statement. Because favourable USDA rulings usually mean subsequent rubber-stamping in Canada, this puts us at risk too.

The reason we should all be concerned is because alfalfa is a widely used rotation crop – in both conventional and organic agriculture – and is also a hugely important animal feed, for livestock and dairy producers among others. And it is consumed directly, as alfalfa sprouts, juice or teas. Importantly, alfalfa is a perennial, unlike all other licensed GE crops in this country.

If GE alfalfa is planted, non-participating farmers are at high risk of cross contamination, and ending up, like Canadian canola farmers have done, with an almost entirely contaminated product. Once cross-contamination happens, organics go out the window, because no organic farmer who uses alfalfa can claim to be GE-free as the certification requires, and even conventional exports suffer because many countries don’t want to import or eat GE foods. This would mean Canadian milk and cheese products as well as meat would be unexportable to those countries. (More information on the organic trade arguments here)

Here, from The True Food Network (who helpfully offers a handy downloadable GE-free shopping guide on its website), is the US campaign, which includes a template for a lobbying letter you might like to customize and send to the USDA and to your favourite Canadian politicians. They need to know we care.

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