Strike at the Root Culprit of GE Alfalfa

Last week the USDA announced its decision to fully “deregulate” genetically engineered (GE) Round Up ready alfalfa.This lead to a divergence in the organic foods community, where the Organic Consumers Association alleged that Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm surrendered to the creator of GE alfalfa, Monsanto.  But rather than continue with the infighting, Stonyfield Farm President and CE-YO Gary Hirsberg suggests that the “the organic community must come out swinging at the right opponents.”

I tend to concur, but who or what exactly are the right opponents?

Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm have fought, and continue to fight  against GE crops.  These companies are friends, not foes.  Each of these companies believe that folks have the right to grow and farm crops sans contamination from GE crops.  And each company does its best to provide organic products to its customers.

The Organic Consumers Association is an online and grassroots non-profit, putting up the fight against GE foods since 1998.  The organization has called for a global moratorium on GE foods and crops.  The organization has high standards, but is no opponent in terms of the fight against GE crops.

How about Monsanto?  This may seem like the obvious opponent, as the company is not only purveyor of GE Round Up ready alfalfa, but also the sole creator and manufacturer of the pesticide Round Up.  It has the most to gain from the sale of both the GE alfalfa and the Round Up.  (Likewise by the same logic, Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farm and their ilk have the most to gain by preventing GE alfalfa from coming to market.)  Monsanto is not quite friend, but not quite the foe we need to rally against.

As strange as it may sound, our opponent is the USDA itself.  We look to the USDA to keep us safe from harmful agriculture coming to market.  But does it really have our interests in mind when making its decisions?  The latest round in giving GE foods the stamp of approval into market leaves me little hope.

Sure, the USDA may attempt stakeholder engagement, “USDA brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss feasible strategies for coexistence between genetically engineered (GE), organic, and other non-GE stakeholders.”  But the USDA method of stakeholder engagement leaves out the most important stakeholders: you, me, and the market at large.  It is making decisions for our health (or lack thereof), rather than making us make our own decisions.

The USDA has a virtual mandated monopoly on regulating and/or deregulating the growing and sale of agriculture in the United States.  The USDA has prevented the labelling of GE foods thus there is no way to know if we are buying GE foods, including GE alfalfa. We think monopolies are restricted to corporations, but they also extend to governmental agencies.

Yes, we must come together in our cause against GE alfalfa, or GE foods in general.  But let’s make sure do swing at the right opponent and not each other.

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.