A long standing battle over the use of genetically modified alfalfa has just resurfaced after several years of court battles. What looked to be a done deal, is now back in the courts and stirring controversy around the nation. One of the issues surrounding the GM alfalfa is that its creators, Monsanto, have engineered it to be resistant to Round Up herbicide (also a Monsanto product), so as to make it easier to kill weeds without harming the crop. This sounds good, but opponents of this Round Up ready alfalfa believe that it’s herbicide resistance is spreading to other weeds, resulting in the increased use of herbicide chemicals and lessened crop yields. The drastic increase in pesticide use with genetically engineered crops is due primarily to the rapid emergence of weeds resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsantos Roundup herbicide, said Dr. Charles Benbrook, chief scientist of The Organic Center. With glyphosate-resistant weeds now infesting millions of acres, farmers face rising costs coupled with sometimes major yield losses, and the environmental impact of weed management systems will surely rise.
Dr. Benbrook and a team of scientists have found that Monsanto’s GM alfalfa has lead to an overall increase of chemical herbiscide use of 318 million pounds. Even greater a risk than increased chemical herbicide use is the threat that GM alfalfa poses to organic and non-GM alfalfa crops. According to Jim Munch of the Cornicopia Institute, the key difference between alfalfa and other crops “is the distance over which pollen is carried. Alfalfa is pollinated by bees carrying pollen from one plant to another, whereas the grain crops are pollinated by the action of gravity and air movement. Research and practical experience have shown that bees can carry pollen for a range of more than 2 miles, which is much farther than wind-carried pollen.” Jim continued: “Another key difference between the two is that seeds for grain crops are grown over large geographic areas, whereas a large proportion of all alfalfa seed is grown within compact geographic areas in a handful of Western states. This is due to climate, topography, and soil type. The result of these two important differences is that there is a high probability that cross-pollination will cause significant contamination of non-GE alfalfa seed with GE alfalfa genetics in a matter of years. In other words, there will eventually be no truly non-GE or organic alfalfa seed.”
The GM alfalfa issue is currently back in the courts where it is being battled out as you read this. There have been several court decisions dating back to 2007 that have culminated with the current supreme court debate. Update: The supreme court has ruled that the GM Alfalfa cannot be used until it obtains the go ahead from the USDA, which will take a while. When that unfolds, so will the court battles. It’s not over, but at this point the organic farmers have a victory to celebrate.