Roundup alfalfa set loose

In what some are calling a precedent-setting move for how genetically engineered food will be regulated in the future, the United States Department of Agriculture has decided not to regulate genetically engineered alfalfa. Farmers can freely plant it with no further oversight from the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. (Alfalfa is Nevada’s leading crop.)

“APHIS has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa,” announced Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week. The department added that Roundup Ready alfalfa, which is produced by Monsanto, is not expected to adversely affect plants, animals or humans.

Whole Foods, which had advocated for a “coexistence” option that would deregulate GE alfalfa but compensate farmers negatively affected, was disappointed in the USDA’s decision, stating, “Planting GE alfalfa without restrictions may cause potential contamination of organic and non-genetically engineered crops.” Some organic foods advocates, such as the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), were upset Whole Foods and others even considered coexistence rather than full deregulation.

“They apparently believe that the battle against GMOs has been lost, and that it’s time to reach for the consolation prize,” wrote Ronnie Cummins on the OCA’s website.

In response, Whole Foods wrote, “Given the prevalence of GMO crops in the U.S.— 93 percent of soy, 86 percent of corn, 93 percent of cotton and 93 percent of canola seed planted were genetically engineered in the U.S. in 2010—we did not believe that a complete ban of GE alfalfa or any crop is an option that the USDA would even consider supporting, nor was it even an option.”