GMO Alfalfa? Not On Our Watch

At first I had plans to make this a quick blog post, spending just enough time to share some information I received from the good folks over at Food Democracy that I think you need to be aware of. Then it hit me. I’ve never shared my thoughts on GMOs (genetically modified organisms, if you will) with you.

Okay, what is a GMO, you ask? A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic structure has been altered by incorporating a gene that will express a desirable trait; this process is often termed “gene splicing.” Most often, the incorporated gene allows the organism to express a trait that will enhance the final product’s desirability to producers or consumers. Keeping this in mind, let’s talk tomatoes.

As we all know, tomatoes generally get softer as they ripen. This is due to a protein in the tomato that breaks down the cell walls of the aforementioned fruit, a natural process that just happens to tomatoes. However, this process was deemed undesirable by the tomato industry because soft tomatoes are difficult to transport across the country without brusing or breaking.

Enter the “Flavr Savr Tomato,” a tomato that could be left to ripen longer on the vine and still remain firm through a couple of weeks of shipping, handling, and sitting on a store shelf … and the first food produced from gene splicing. The “Flavr Savr Tomato” had a gene incorporated into its DNA to prevent the breakdown of the tomatoes’ cell walls. The result of the incorporation of this new gene was a firm ripe tomato, ready to ship to consumers across the country.

What’s so wrong with that you ask? Umm, where do I begin?

First, and probably most simply, what’s wrong with a tomato getting a little soft and ultimately going bad quickly if not consumed? As I said above, it’s a NATURAL process that occurs within the tomato. To me, this just means one needs to consume tomatoes as soon as the come off the vine; they’ll be at their freshest—and tastiest—at that time anyway. This is why I buy my tomatoes at my local farmers’ market. I know that these tomatoes were picked the day they were brought to the market and only traveled a relatively short distance to get to me. Which leads me to …

Second, genetically modified organisms pose a number of risks, both known and unknown. In a nutshell, the controversies surrounding genetically modified foods and crops typically focus on safety (to both human beings and the environment), labeling issues and consumer choice, intellectual property rights, ethics, food security, poverty reduction, and environmental stewardship. I could go deeper into each of these risks, but really, isn’t the fact that this list is so long enough to make you question the need for GMOs? Which leads me to …

The reason I started this blog post in the first place was to make you aware of an important issue in the GMO world that needs your attention now. Therefore, I present to you the following from the folks at Food Democracy:

Once again, the organic industry is under assault. Monsanto is eager to resume the marketing and sale of their Roundup Ready™ alfalfa.

Fortunately, the possibility that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready™ alfalfa may be deregulated by the USDA has caught the attention of two leading members of Congress: Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter DeFazio. We are joining with our partners at Center for Food Safety in encouraging members of Congress who support regulation of GMO alfalfa to sign their “Dear Colleague” letter, addressed to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, asking him to maintain the ban on GMO alfalfa, protecting farmers, the environment and the organic industry.

If your legislator has not done so already, they have until the end of this week—48 hours —to sign this letter and join their colleagues in asking Secretary Tom Vilsack to maintain the ban on Monsanto’s genetically-modified (GMO) Roundup Ready™ alfalfa.

This past March we invited you to send in your comments to the USDA asking them to not permit GMO alfalfa to be grown, jeopardizing the organic industry. Your response was overwhelming: in a 48-hour period more than 56,000 Food Democracy Now! members responded telling Secretary Vilsack that you value organics and the livelihood of farmers over corporate profits. We need to do it again.

Can you sign a letter to your congressman telling them that you want them to tell Secretary Vilsack to stop the approval of GMO alfalfa?

As you may already know, in April of this year, the US Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the deregulation of Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Monsanto, it could spell ruin for the organic industry. While we’re still waiting for a ruling from the Supreme Court, this is no time to be passive. If remarks from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia are any indication, we need to keep fighting. Justice Scalia’s words, regarding contamination of organic alfalfa were: “This isn’t contamination of the New York City water supply … this is not the end of the world.”

It may not be the end of the world, but it could spell the end of the organic dairy industry as well as end the export market of US organic and natural alfalfa. Studies have shown, that if approved, contamination of organic alfalfa is certain. Once contaminated, the organic dairy sector, the cornerstone of organic agriculture, stands to lose billions of dollars, while thousands of other American farmers will lose a vital market in Europe and Japan where GMO-free alfalfa is widely sought.

Will you please take a moment to sign a letter to your representative asking them to sign this letter to Secretary Vilsack? And if you really want to take part in food democracy today, take another moment to call their office, showing your strong opposition to GMO alfalfa.

This is essentially the first time that a member of Congress has shown interest in championing an issue related to anti-GMO. This is a crucial moment, and it’s vital that we make our voices heard to our representatives and senators. We are counting on you today to sign your name and make the call.

Several senators and representatives have already signed, along with numerous non-profit organizations, businesses, and companies to send a clear message to Congress saying “NO” to GMO alfalfa.

Oh, so whatever happened to the “Flavr Savr Tomato”? Turns out, this tomato didn’t taste very good and was extremely costly to produce so it shriveled on the vine. I guess we can chalk one up for the good guys.

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  • Melissa @ HerGreenLife

    Thanks for writing about this. My husband heard the story on NPR and came home all fired up about it. It's pretty sad (and scary) the compromises we make with our food quality.

    Knowing your farmer is one of my favorite solutions! (Not to mention that quality, local food tastes better!)

  • Kimberly

    An update to the GMO alfalfa story:

    Here's a link to information about the recent court ruling in this case:

    While this is a victory, I would concede it's more a temporary, partial victory.

    Monsanto will not be able to plant "Round-Up Ready" alfalfa until the USDA deregulates it, which may take a year or more … but then Monsanto is free to plant away.

    We still need to keep speaking out so the USDA does not deregulate GMO alfalfa.