In 2007, a federal court rejected the Bush USDA’s approval of alfalfa plants genetically engineered for resistance to the Monsanto herbicide Roundup. The court ruled that the USDA had not properly considered the risks posed by the crop. These risks included the possibility that the genetically modified (GM) crops could swap genetic material with related species, thus contaminating neighboring fields or producing non-agricultural “super weeds.”
Monsanto continues to appeal the decision, even though the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against it twice. The case is now pending consideration by the Supreme Court.
Alfalfa is the first perennial crop to be genetically modified. Because it does not die after a year but can regenerate itself from even its roots, the risk of genetic contamination is higher than even that from GM annual crops, which have already been documented to spread beyond the fields they are planted in.
“Widespread [GM] contamination of organic alfalfa is inevitable if the Obama Administration successfully distorts science and ignores public opinion and allows Monsanto’s GM Roundup Ready alfalfa to be planted across the U.S.,” said Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association.
After Obama appointed former Monsanto executive Tom Vilsack to head the USDA, the agency released a new draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that continues to play down these risks.
Yet even the Monsanto-friendly EIS acknowledges that “acute toxicity … was observed” in mice that consumed GM alfalfa. It also admits that residues of Roundup (glyphosate) herbicide are toxic.
“Based on upper estimates of exposure … infants consuming fruit and all age groups consuming vegetables may be at risk of adverse effects associated with acute exposure to glyphosate residues,” the statement reads.
Since the introduction of Roundup Ready GM crops 13 years ago, herbicide use has increased by 383 million pounds.