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USDA's Approval of Genetically Modified Alfalfa Could Kill Organic Burgers, Milk

alfalfa bales

The USDA announced this week that it will allow the planting of genetically modified alfalfa, a crop used mainly as hay for cattle. The agency claims that Monsanto's weed-resistant Roundup Ready alfalfa is safe, but there's just one problem: it puts the organic meat and milk industries in jeopardy.

Alfalfa pollen is notorious for flying all over the place, which means that GMO alfalfa can easily spread to non-GMO fields without permission from farm owners. And therein lies the issue—genetically modified crops aren't allowed in organic products. So if GMO alfalfa inadvertently ends up feeding cows bred to produce organic milk or beef, the organic label no longer applies.

"This creates a perplexing situation when the market calls for a supply of crops free of genetic engineering," said Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association in a press release. "The organic standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, and consumers will not tolerate the accidental presence of genetic engineered materials in organic products, yet GE crops continue to proliferate unchecked."

So what's an organic cow-breeding farm to do? For now, wait. The USDA claims that it will do research on ways to prevent the spread of GMO alfalfa to pure crops, and that the agency will ensure that pure varieties are preserved. But this may not be enough to stop alfalfa contamination, and if it isn't, organic beef may soon be a relic of the past.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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  • Rafael Espericueta

    Another excellent reason to stop eating meat and  to avoid dairy products!   Even if  the GMO's aren't as harmful as many studies show (not of course the studies funded by Monsanto - I think that anyone who trusts those studies is a fool), who wants to eat Agent Orange (I mean Roundup - a close relative of AO) contaminated food?  Anyone who thinks GMOs are OK, please do a little reading up on the other point of view.  There is copious evidence that GMOs cause far more problems than they solve.   FAR more!

  • Tekesevent

    Sue those who plant GMO crops until there is no profit.  When Monsanto's GMOs pollinate a farm that doesn't use their (Monsanto) products, Monsanto sues those farmers.  These crops are engineered so you have to buy seeds every year.  Check it out.

  • h7g6y

    the planting of genetically modified alfalfa, technically won't even affect the organic beef/milk industry. Once the cow eats the GM alfalfa it wouldn't be any different from any cow that ate regular alfalfa. There is no chemical an organism produces from eating GM food. There would be no way to tell if the cow that the beef came from ate this type of food or not. The fact is that it wouldn't affect the beef or milk at all and this is just Anti-GMO bias. Also Organic is such a loose term that it means something different for almost every industry. Finally people have already thought of multitudes of ways around the problem of the genes spreading through pollen.

  • Dji23

    you dont "breed" for organic cattle its how the cattle are raised and fed.  it doesnt matter anyway because most "organic" farms say their organic so that they can charge more for their products.  there are very few farms that are fully and legitimately organic.  As the article said this is driven by the market demands and the markets demands cheap food and organic is not cheap GMOs allow for large quantities of cheap food to be produced.  The GMO crops and farms that use GMOs are necessary to produce food for a growing world population and a national population in the US that desires quantity over quality.

  • Marty Kassowitz

    This decision is a throwback to the bad old days of the Bush administration's blatant cronyism with corporate interests. I hope everyone disgusted by this action makes their voices known by flooding the White House communication lines, i.e., and phone with messages demanding the president step in and override this action. I have done precisely this. Remember, there is no science that validations GMO foods and crops. ( Not even all the lobbying muscle of Monsanto can overcome facts forever. Politicians and corporate functionaries always seem to forget this.