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U.S. Department of (Roundup Ready) Agriculture throws Organic Under the Bus

By Steve Gilman, NOFA-IC Policy Coordinator
Reprinted from the Spring 2011 issue of The Natural Farmer

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Ending a month-long charade begun over the Christmas holidays, USDA completely caved to the demands of the biotech industry, first deregulating Genetically Engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa and then sugar beets - turning them loose for widespread planting this spring. The White House apparently played a role in the acquiescence after Secretary Vilsack was called to a Congressional Hearing and taken to the woodshed by the new Republican-led, biotech-dominated House Ag Committee for not deregulating the "perfectly safe" GE crops at the outset. Despite a number of Higher Court rulings prohibiting such plantings and an immediate public protest led by Senator Leahy (D-VT) and Representative De Fazio (D-OR) in Congress, the action goes forward.

The rulings assure that there will be certain and amplified contamination of the organic food supply, adversely affecting organic farmers and consumers alike. The GE crop varieties are proven highly promiscuous, spreading by wind-blown pollen and cross-fertilized by bees over long distances. Alfalfa is a mainstay of the organic and GE-free dairy and beef industries - and sugar beets readily cross-pollinate with table beets and chard. And even away from the field, labeling mix-ups and comingling contamination are rife in the seed handling system.

Contamination policy
So it comes as no surprise that using a protracted GE crop "coexistence" strategy to cement their corporate hegemony is a stated long term goal of Monsanto and company(1) which essentially means that hitherto pure organic and non-GMO seed stocks will be contaminated out of existence. Adding insult to injury, farmers whose crops have become corrupted by these proprietary GE genes have been regularly sued by Monsanto for "possessing" their technology without a license.

Furthermore, the protracted use of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide in GE corn, soybeans, cotton and canola has already created an explosion of resistant "superweeds" across the country, plus an alarming increase in mycotoxins that can also affect adjoining organic farms. With their Roundup patent protections due to expire in 2014 and faced with the Court orders Monsanto has added impetus to exercise their clout in the inner sanctums of government (thanks to spending more than half a billion dollars on lobbying since 1999) and ram through the rulings.

Consumers also need to become acutely aware that our nation's food supply has become significantly contaminated. GE was given its green light under the Reagan Administration in the 1980's and now there is a widespread unlabeled presence of GE materials in mainstream food products - processed foods, junk foods, and conventional meat and animal products comprising over 70% of the food on supermarket shelves. Standing alone in the marketplace, the USDA organic program is the only federal food label that prohibits the use of GE crops or materials.

Circular firing squad
What's more, the organic community got thrown into disarray over some of its own internal responses to the issue. USDA had already cancelled Option 1 prohibiting GE plantings. Under the initial pretext of deciding between complete GE alfalfa deregulation (Option 2) or exploring a 3rd option of partial-regulation they brought an assemblage of organic and biotech stakeholders to the table and conducted a dialogue to set forth what a coexistence option might look like. However, the resulting list of pre-conditions submitted by the organic contingent, including authentic contamination protections; full compensation - from the manufacturer - for damages; comprehensive biotech labeling and regular monitoring of the purity of seed stocks by USDA were totally unacceptable (of course) to Big Biotech, and any potential coexistence scenarios died on the vine.

But some "watchdog" members of the organic community viewing the proceedings from afar publically accused a so-called "organic elite" for collaborating with the enemy. The simplistic blame game sidetracked the organic community at a time when a cohesive response was clearly called for. And behind the scenes the Biotech Industry was making great strides forward toward the deregulation option.

In an attempt to rally the troops under the flag of responsible action, the National Organic Coalition (NOC) put forth a concerted contamination prevention (not coexistence) plan titled "Seven Steps to Fair Farming" that is posted with other materials at And along with NOFA, numerous organic-friendly groups across the country began joining forces to combat the rulings.

Seeking Justice
Straight away, the USDA ruling is headed back to the Courts. Although they're stretched thin, the Center for Food Safety which brought one of the original suits all the way to the Supreme Court, has filed for an injunction with the Judge who issued the desist orders, but whether this action will be successful in time to stop spring planting is in question.

GE deregulation can also be stopped by the White House. At this point the strategy is to continue with alerts asking the organic community to come together and to barrage the White House with calls demanding the reversal of the GE deregulation decisions.

Other counter-attacks are gearing up on a number of fronts. A group from the Columbia University law school called the Patent Foundation, is enlisting organizations along with individuals nationwide to challenge Monsanto's originating patents in the Courts. And an initiative called "MVTillions Against Monsanto" is targeting big supermarket retailers, demanding that they label the GE foods on their shelves.

State legislative proposals are also in the offing. A New Mexico bill would protect farmers inadvertently contaminated by GE crops from being sued by the manufacturer and set up local jurisdiction for lawsuits rather than in Monsanto's home court. There have also been nationwide calls for farmers and gardeners to boycott Monsanto seed. Monsanto has acquired oligopoly ownership in the seed business, having bought up 17 of the nation's largest commodity seed producers as well as two major national vegetable seed companies (Seminis and De Ruiter) and a number of regional ones. Farmers are asking their seed retailers to provide listings of the Monsanto seed they carry - and then are ordering other varieties(2). Fedco and Seeds of Change have already scrubbed their catalogs of Monsanto seed.

These brazen demonstrations of raw power reveal the depth of corporate corruption in government. Biotech's actions are highly alarming and represent a major threat to organic integrity, consumer freedom and the safety of our food supply. And there's more to come. Waiting in the wings for commercialization approval are a number of "pharm" crops developed by Monsanto and others that are genetically engineered to cheaply produce pharmaceutical drugs in food crops.

It's high time to end Big Biotech's domination of our seed and food supply. Fully regulating GE plantings and labeling all GE food products (to let consumers decide) is a good place to start.

Please call or email: President Barack Obama
Comment line: (202) 456-1111 Fax: (202) 456-2461

1. see an attendee's report on The Fourth International Conference on Co-existence Between GM and Non-GM Based Agricultural Supply Chains, in Melborne Australia in 2009 at:
2. for a list of organizations and websites providing seed information go to:

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