What is GMO Alfalfa?

The term GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) is used to describe an organism (plant or animal) whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering.  The biotechnology company Monsanto genetically engineered the alfalfa plant to be able to resist the herbicide Roundup, a huge moneymaker for the company.  This is done by invading an alfalfa plant cell through the use of E Coli bacteria in order to deliver a soil bacteria gene into its DNA that will allow it to survive exposure to glyphosate (the main ingredient in RoundUp).  The plant thus becomes a GMO that is resistant to Roundup.  This specific GMO is named Roundup Ready alfalfa (RR alfalfa).

What are the risks of GMO Alfalfa?

Genetically Modified Alfalfa poses unique economic and medical risks that didn’t exist with the alfalfa varieties farmers have grown for decades.

The economic risks:

Planting of genetically modified alfalfa will result in pollen from those plants contaminating organic and traditional crops. Once a non-GMO crop is affected there is no recourse for the damage done nor is there any way to reverse the process.  No law or regulation requires that farmers using GMO alfalfa seeds take measures to avoid cross-pollination with neighbors’ crops or weeds.

“Promises were made about containment and segregation, and they weren’t kept, and you might say they could never be kept.”                               - Philip Regal, Biologist University of Minnesota

Several weeds growing among GMO tolerant plants have developed resistance to glyphosate making them more difficult and costly to deal with.

“We can’t stop the spread of this weed.”                                                                  - Arkansas Extension Agent about glyphosate-resistant pigweed

Roundup Ready alfalfa increases herbicide use.  Herbicide use on herbicide tolerant crops increased by more than 138 million pounds between 1996 and 2004.  It is estimated that RR alfalfa will result in the application of an additional 200,000 pounds a year.  This is costly to the pocket book, the environment and human health.

The increasing control that patented seed technologies grant companies like Monsanto reduces the availability of affordable, public seed varieties, and further reduces the control American farmers and ranchers have over U.S. agriculture (not to mention their own farms).

RR alfalfa costs twice as much as other proprietary seed varieties because a technology fee is tacked onto the price of the GM seed.

“Some of our Japanese hay customers are asking us to sign documents saying no genetically modified products will be coming over.”                         - Jeff Plourd of El Toro Export El Centro California

Many countries and businesses are refusing the use of GM foods.  This means an elimination of markets for producers of GMO tainted alfalfa, including markets for meat and dairy derived from livestock fed GMO alfalfa, and the honey industry (most US honey is derived from alfalfa pollen).

The examples above mean that non-GM sources of feed will be increasingly expensive or impossible to find.

“They’ve introduced a technology that they can’t manage and now I have to pay the bills."  - David Vetter, Nebraska Farmer

The medical risks:

The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service did not analyze the effect of RR alfalfa on animals and plants before approving of this GMO.  Yet, there is growing evidence about the health detriments of GMOs to people and animals.

How do I know if my livestock feed has GMO alfalfa in it?

You can’t know because there is not a law requiring the labeling of GMOs in Oregon.  Even if such a law existed, so long as GMO alfalfa is grown in an outside environment cross-pollination is inevitable with non-GMO crops.  Honey bees can transfer pollen several miles.  Birds can carry seed even farther.

To learn more about GMO Alfalfa visit http://www.worc.org/ and click on the link Guide to Genetically Modified Alfalfa, found at the bottom right-hand side of the page.