We Support an Organic Future
The sustainable food movement has long supported the growth and development of organic agriculture in America, but today the future of organic is at a crossroads. Whether we can continue to protect organic farmers and maintain the integrity and consumer trust in the organic label now rests on the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) pending decision on the deregulation of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa.
On January 24, 2011, the USDA will determine whether to fully deregulate GE alfalfa or to conditionally deregulate it, the latter of which would place restrictions on its production and potentially hold patent holders accountable for harm to organic farmers through compensation. (Unfortunately, the USDA has made it clear that the continued full regulation—or non-production—of GE alfalfa is not an option, despite the vast number of consumer comments and sound science submitted in support of this position.)
USDA has faced a lot of controversy over the idea of conditional regulation, and while NCGA strongly opposes GE foods, we applaud USDA’s historic approach to this decision as they have the clear authority to protect all segments of U.S. agriculture. By recognizing that cross-contamination of GE alfalfa could impact organic farmers and consumers (both domestically and for our export markets), USDA is acknowledging that organic agriculture—an albeit small but rapidly growing portion of the agricultural industry—has the right to not only survive but to thrive alongside conventional agriculture. This is no easy position given the massive lobbying machine that is “big agriculture.”
Faced with the choice between full deregulation and conditional deregulation, our best chance at preserving the future of organic agriculture now is to fight for every protection available under conditional deregulation. The organic community should be heard as loudly as those pushing for full deregulation.
Why alfalfa? While alfalfa is not a popularly recognized pantry staple, it is integrally connected to many popular conventional and organic foods. Alfalfa is a mainstay food for dairy cows, beef cattle and honeybees. Consequently, integration of GE alfalfa into the food system could compromise organic beef, dairy and honey as well as all other crops. Organic seed purity must be maintained for organic and conventional farmers wanting to farm without GE technology. This is particularly relevant for organics because dairy is often the entry point for consumers who are new to organics. And while USDA’s decision will be specific to GE alfalfa, it will be a precedent setting decision for how or whether other genetically engineered food will be regulated far into the future.
Yes, today American farmers, consumers and the biotech industry are truly at a crossroads in the future of organic agriculture. What can we do? USDA has asked organic and conventional ag groups to work together toward conditional deregulation and NCGA intends to be at that table to advocate for organic agriculture protections.
Find additional information in Stronger Together’s article, Background on the GE Alfalfa Issue.