by Eileen Weber
Last week, the USDA “deregulated” genetically engineered alfalfa, which means its use is unrestricted. The organization also called for “coexistence” between biotech companies, organic farmers, and non-organic farmers not growing genetically altered crops.
Gary Hirschberg, President and CEO of Stonyfield Farms, had a lot to say in a recent blog entry. He refuted the Organic Consumers Association's claim that Stonyfield Farms, along with Whole Foods and Organic Valley, “sold out” to biotech giant Monsanto and gave up the fight against genetically modified crops (GMOs).
“Not once did Stonyfield consider buying what Monsanto was selling – nor will we ever,” he said. “We have never wavered from our position in defending organic and opposing GE crops.”
Not only does the deregulation of engineered crops pose a threat to the environment, Hirschfeld said it limits the choices farmers and consumers have to make. Organic farming, on the other hand, has proven itself to be a much healthier choice for human consumption as well as biodiversity.
While Hirschfeld makes it clear that he opposes the USDA’s decision and is less than thrilled that the OCA scapegoated his company as well as Organic Valley and Whole Foods, he feels more strongly that the OCA is creating derision where there shouldn’t be.
“….instead of fighting with each other, we need to fight Monsanto and the forces that are causing the voices of hundreds of thousands of Americans who support organic to be silenced,” he said. “All of us who are opposed to the USDA decision to deregulate GE alfalfa must speak with one voice.”
So why the big fuss about such a little sprout? Alfalfa is typically grown to make hay to feed cows and horses. According to an article from The New York Times, more than 20 million acres are grown in the U.S. and it is our fourth largest crop behind corn, wheat, and soybeans. Only one percent of those crops is actually organic. Modified alfalfa is immune to herbicides like Roundup, which kill weeds. The spraying and runoff from these kinds of products will affect neighboring crops.
So how will consumers know that what is labeled organic is really organic? Well, they won’t. And, that’s the point.
From the possibility of cross-pollination of crops, to the use of chemicals on modified crops, and dairy cows ingesting modified hay, organic farmers are on the losing end of this scenario. It destroys their claim that their products are organic, which can cost them sales and credibility here and in other countries that have stiffer restrictions against modified foods.
To the three organic companies highlighted in this fracas, Whole Foods pointed out that they were essentially between a rock and a hard place. In a blog entry On January 28th from Walter Robb, Co-Chief Officer and Director, and Margaret Wittenberg, Vice President of Global Quality Standards and Public Affairs, at Whole Foods Market, they also refute claims made by the OCA as Hirschfeld did.
“Many people have asked us why we endorsed the coexistence option rather than an outright ban on GE alfalfa. That was never an option in Washington!” they said. “The USDA presented the industry with only two options that they were considering– deregulation and deregulation with restrictions. Given the pervasive planting of GE crops in the U.S. – 93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton and 93% of canola seed planted were genetically engineered in the U.S. in 2010 – the option of an outright ban was not on the table.”
Whole Foods sites Samuel Fromartz’s blog Chewswise as he sums up the political debacle. In it, he quotes Liana Hoodes, Director for the National Organic Coalition, when she said, "Organic farmers and others are now left, once again, having to take all the precautions while biotech takes little responsibility."
After years of fighting this battle, there is the sense that the little guys feel defeated. But each company has vowed to continue standing up for an all-natural, organic approach to food.
At the risk of making too biblical a reference, one thing is for sure: David didn’t beat Goliath with a belly-full of modified food and neither can we.
Image courtesy of the Baltimore Sun.