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MUTANT ALFALFA

There are few assumptions more basic than the belief that the food we eat is safe. And that assumption is becoming increasingly difficult to make. A legal battle is raging right now in the US against what safe food advocates say is the biggest threat to food safety yet. There’s been a significant change in the food we eat in one generation. The supermarkets of the fifties have become the megastores of the 21st century and nothing is ever out of season. Our produce comes from all over the globe, yet most of it is the property of a handful of giant corporations. The farmland that was home to thousands of small farmers in the United States is now controlled by giant agribusiness. Small farmers have been driven into niche businesses – particularly the growing organic and specialty foods – with demand for their products increasing as consumers grow concerned about the chemicals and genetic engineering that sustain the modern factory farm.

Alfalfa is the fourth largest crop in the US. Farmers grow it to feed cows in the winter months. Organic dairy farmers rely on organic alfafa and alfalfa seed for their business’s survival. Alfalfa’s a hardy crop and one that pollinates and cross-pollinates easily. And that’s about to be a huge problem.

A new variety of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa developed by chemical giant Monsanto is known as “RoundUp ™ Ready”. You’re familiar with Round Up™. It’s the kill-everything chemical that you spray on the poison ivy in your yard. It kills everything. Except GE Alfalfa.

Round Up ™ Ready Alfalfa isn’t harmed by the chemical. It’s an impervious mutant, which means farmers are free to pump as many pesticides on their crops as they like – the alfalfa will still grow. That’s bad news for any organic farmers upwind or downwind. That prodigious pollinator will blow into an organic field and contaminate the organic alfalfa.

And the USDA has just approved the unrestricted, nationwide planting of GE Alfalfa. That lifted a ban upheld by the US Supreme Court against Monsanto’s mutant crop in 2010. There are that the White House forced the issue, citing it as an opportunity to reduce needless regulations. That means lots of GE alfalfa and lots more chemicals. And that’s a problem for all of us.

According to an article in the April 2010 Scientific American, 38 years after DDT was banned, we’re all still ingesting residue of it in our food every day. We’re ingesting traces of twenty other banned chemicals as well. That’s on top of the chemicals that aren’t banned, that are still in use and are pumped on crops all over the world. The higher the fat content of the food, the higher the pesticide levels. Researchers don’t know the effect of a combination of pesticides, but that’s what we’re dealing with in our food supply.

Paige Tomaselli at the Center for Food Safety says despite environmental impact statements that claim GE alfalfa poses no health risks, the pesticides it encourages do. They’re dangerous to animals, they encourage the growth of pesticide-resistant “superweeds”, and the long term impact of those pesticides on the cows, and the milk from those cows, is still being studied. The Center for Food Safety is suing.

They’re also suing, along with the Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club, to stop the USDA’s recent decision to also allow the US beet industry to again begin planting Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered sugar beets.

To find out more about the issue of food safety and genetically altered crops, go to .


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Written by: Susan Barnett. Susan Barnett is the producer and host of 51% The Women’s Perspective, a weekly women’s issues radio show carried nationally on NPR, ABC and Armed Forces Radio stations. 51% The Women’s Perspective is part of WAMC - Northeast Public Radio’s national productions.


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