| For all of the talk of coexistence, USDA has decided where their allegiance lies. Despite earlier suggestions that they might only partially deregulate GE alfalfa (with some attempt at buffer zones to keep it from cross-pollinating organic and non-GE alfalfa seeds), they have gone ahead with full deregulation. That means you can grow whatever you want, wherever you want, no matter what it is going to contaminate.
This is a bit of a first, as I've said before. It's not the first GE crop to be grown commercially in the U.S. But it's a first in terms of the impact it will have. Most corn grown in the U.S. is hybrid, which means that the genes in the seed corn farmers plant have been carefully selected. It's likely that some GE contamination occurs in corn, but for the most part, if you try to buy GE-free corn, that's what you'll get. But alfalfa is open pollinated, which means that the alfalfa grown to produce seed sold around the country can be easily contaminated with GE traits.
Truly, this is devastating. Not only for the impact it will have on organic farmers, but also in terms of what it tells us about the USDA. A release from The Cornucopia Institute says:
...the agency, under heavy pressure from the biotech sector, chose total deregulation. Over 250,000 public comments were received during the FEIS process, with the vast majority opposing deregulation.
Vilsack did announce that the USDA WOULD establish a second germ plasm/seed center for alfalfa in the state of Idaho to try, and the operative word is "try," to maintain GE-free strains of alfalfa.
There you are. The majority of 250,000 citizens vs. the biotech lobby. I think, at a minimum, the USDA should now be required to stop referring to itself as "The People's Department" (the name Lincoln gave it when he founded it in the 1860's).
NYT: Agriculture Agency Approves Planting of Modified Alfalfa
Des Moines Register: Vilsack decides against biotech restrictions