Farmers sigh relief over USDA deregulation of Biotech Alfalfa
– USDA decision on Biotech Alfalfa here
By National Association of Wheat Growers
USDA said it is granting deregulated status to Roundup Ready alfalfa, meaning growers won’t face isolation distances and other restrictions on planting of the genetically modified crop. This announcement, which came from the Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), was highly anticipated following the release of an environmental review, known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), in late December and the expiration of a review period on Monday.
The EIS, which USDA was compelled to complete following a 2007 court ruling, took nearly four years to complete and runs more than 2,000 pages. It concluded that Roundup Ready alfalfa is not a plant pest.
Still, when releasing the EIS, USDA said for the first time it was considering deregulating the crop with restrictions including isolation distances, geographic planting restrictions, limitations on harvest periods and equipment usage, seed bag labeling, seed coloration and the listing of seed production field locations on a national database.
Mainstream agriculture groups and key Members of Congress voiced strong opposition to this potential path because it would, for the first time, make the biotech deregulation process non-science-based and because of its severe implications for alfalfa producers, future biotech approvals and the United States’ efforts to encourage trading partners to make science-based policies
Why You Should Care About Genetically Modified Alfalfa
So what's the potential impact?
1. Less organic forage crops. Why would any farmer plant organic alfalfa when he knows a farmer nearby is planting GM alfalfa? Not only will his costs be higher in terms of cultivating an organic crop, but the possibility now exists that the crop will not be organic once it's harvested. So why bother?
2. Fewer organic dairy farmers. Organic dairy farmers plant alfalfa in fields where their cows graze, but they may also buy hay for winter. With fewer sources of organic forages, costs for organic dairy farmers will rise. What's the smartest decision here? Reduce your risk by avoiding the organic market altogether. Or maybe buy your organic forage crops from China, as people have been doing with soybeans.
3. Higher prices for organic consumers. If the supply of organic forages falls, the cost will rise. Organic dairy farmers will either be squeezed and go under or organic milk prices will rise. The impact: higher prices at the checkout counter for moms and dads buying organic milk for their kids. (Or maybe we'll see more imports of organic milk powder from nations with stricter GM controls to keep the market going.)
4. Less investment in organic meat. Organic meat has been a fast-growing sector of the market, but why would anyone invest in this business if you could be disqualified by contaminated feed? The rational business decision would be to ignore the U.S. and invest in organic operations outside the U.S.—Uruguay anyone?
5. Fewer conventional export opportunities. The contamination of rice fields by GM test plots in Louisiana led to multimillion dollar law suits. Why? Conventional rice farmers lost markets in countries that didn't want to import GM rice. The same could be true of forages—that is, unless the U.S. is successful in getting the rest of the world to buy GM crops, as the State Department is hoping.
Now you might argue over whether Roundup Ready alfalfa is safe or not. But long before that argument's settled, organic farmers will face major economic losses—the same small farmers that the USDA likes to present as poster children for agriculture.
The other possibility is that organic farmers, certifiers, processors, retailers, and consumers knowingly accept some degree of genetically modified crops—despite regulations preventing it. Either way, consumers will take a hit. In what way or how big a hit? Only time will tell.