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Monsanto alfalfa: coming soon to a field near you
January 28, 2011 9:14 PM   Subscribe

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that the sale of Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa will be fully deregulated: USDA factsheet [PDF]. Advocates of organic agriculture are outraged, while the biotechnology industry supports the decision. Monsanto is also pleased by the USDA's action.

Executives from Whole Foods Market, Stonyfield Dairy, and Organic Valley announced recently that they were no longer seeking a ban of genetically engineered crops. Rather, they encouraged a policy of coexistence between biotech and organic interests; the coexistence approach emphasized seed purity, compensation to farmers for crop contamination, and USDA oversight, and was the middle-ground approach between continuation of the ban and complete deregulation.

Vilsack's announcement follows a Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a federal appellate judge's ban on planting Roundup Ready alfalfa. [The judge who issued the ban was US District Judge Charles Breyer, brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who recused himself from this case.]
posted by catlet (38 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Never, ever believe that common sense, the consideration of what's best for this planet, and/or concern about your fellow man, will ever prevail in the face of profit.

We recently purchased a share in a local organic farm. I picked up enough greens last week to get us through for a bit, we're looking forward to more veggies in the near future as the weather warms.

Hopefully the farm is isolated enough to avoid contamination from Monsanto.
posted by HuronBob at 9:31 PM on January 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds [New York Times business section, May3, 2010]
posted by Auden at 9:33 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The weed community was ready to respond with the new "Monsanto Ready" line of offspring.
posted by Xoebe at 9:39 PM on January 28, 2011 [10 favorites]


All you need to know about this is that if Monsanto issues a press release saying that the corporation is pleased about something, it means the people of America are getting royally fucked because of it.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:41 PM on January 28, 2011 [25 favorites]


I'm afraid that stuff will start sprouting in my colon or something.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:01 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read scare quotes about pesticide-producing genes crossing into gut bacteria.

Sounds likely.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:08 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whole Foods is an "organic market" like BP or Chevron are "advocates" for renewable energy. Whole Foods uses organic as a marketing tool, nothing more. An effective one, from what I've seen.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 10:11 PM on January 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


I wish the public face of biotechnology wasn't Monsanto. Biotechnology, including GMOs, has the power to help humanity immensely - however, when it is in the hands of such a notoriously amoral and unscrupulous corporation, it may end up being ruined for this potential.

Basically, Monsanto : Biotechnology :: Chernobyl : Nuclear power
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:20 PM on January 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


Think of it as evolution in action.

Unfortunately.
posted by tspae at 10:30 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know, tetrahydrocannabinol (thc) almost certainly evolved as a natural pesticide, well along with basil, pepers, anise, ginger, etc. Why not just genetically modify more food plants to produce thc?

I'm not just being facetious here. There are oodles of mild natural pesticides that aren't particularly harmful to humans, meaning we could have a billion dollar industry in rotating genetically modified crops with different defense mechanisms. Monsanto has merely used the market hegemony to force farmers into a product set that spends less on biotech scientists and sells more spray on pesticide. Imho, the best solution would be for the E.U. to fund projects based upon rotation of natural plant produced pesticides, but sadly European's aren't really good at eating spicy food. ;)
posted by jeffburdges at 10:59 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


jeffburdges writes "You know, tetrahydrocannabinol (thc) almost certainly evolved as a natural pesticide, well along with basil, pepers, anise, ginger, etc. Why not just genetically modify more food plants to produce thc?"

It would be pretty funny to grow summer squash or potatoes genetically engineered to produce THC.
posted by Mitheral at 12:16 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh, interesting. I had a summer job in college (5 years ago) working on alfalfa genome sequencing. The main interesting thing about alfalfa is that it has really simple genetics compared to other legumes -- soy is vastly more complicated and expensive to work with, but Monsanto's did Roundup-Ready soy years ago. Presumably alfalfa is just a small enough market that they saved it for last.
posted by miyabo at 12:22 AM on January 29, 2011


>Why not just genetically modify more food plants to produce thc?"
This is being worked on, but it's a highly kept secret.
posted by Catblack at 1:09 AM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anyone looking for more info on GMO should probably read this. You should also be aware that we prtty much can't trade agricultural products with the EU because of our use of GM.
posted by clarknova at 2:30 AM on January 29, 2011


When Tom Vilsack was governor of Iowa his own AG Sec, Patty Judge, fired the state's lone apiarist and abolished his office. This was in a primarily agricultural state, in the middle of a honeybee depopulation crisis. Tom had no problem with this, and later promoted Judge to lieutenant governor.

And most of you will remember one of his other greatest hits.

But never mind that, he's running for President!
posted by clarknova at 2:30 AM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is my copy of The Windup Girl going to be guidebook for the future?
posted by snwod at 3:21 AM on January 29, 2011


What entices a person to go work for Monsanto? Are they paying twice as much as other companies for comparable positions?
posted by armoir from antproof case at 8:12 AM on January 29, 2011


APHIS always wants to come up with "science-based" solutions to things, but it doesn't seem that easy. I think it's because they must consult with lawyers at every step of the way and have to worry about what each option will cost. It's harder to come up with "science-based" decisions under such conditions. To be fair, they view scientists as irresponsible risk takers whose answer is always "Let's try it and see what happens!".
posted by acrasis at 9:00 AM on January 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


It wasn't like Obama didn't know what he was getting when he picked Vilsack to head the Dept of Agriculture.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 20, 2001) – The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) today named Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as Governor of the Year for his support of the industry's economic growth and agricultural biotechnology research.

Barack should have asked the nation's most famous organic farmer for advice (his wife).
posted by ecourbanist at 9:01 AM on January 29, 2011


OK, but I love Vilsack. He's the first Secretary we've had who's genuinely acknowledged the department's homophobia and racism and done something about it.
posted by acrasis at 9:11 AM on January 29, 2011


acrasis: "He's the first Secretary we've had who's genuinely acknowledged the department's homophobia and racism and done something about it."

While acknowledging that Vilsack has probably made other progress on these issues, pretending Shirley Sherrod is a racist instead of just honest is more counterproductive than denial.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:28 AM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


A measured take, from Sepultura.
posted by klangklangston at 10:48 AM on January 29, 2011


Well, policywonk, don't wait for me to defend him on that; that was horrible. The government is increasingly making stupid symbolic actions instead of effecting change (Win the future!). Vilsack fired Sherrod quickly in order to show how decisive he was against *all sorts* of racism, instead of trying to find out what the facts were first.

So while giant superstores destroy the structure of small town America by causing small independent businesses to close, we in the government are ordered NOT TO BUY FROM WALMART; we must buy from small businesses, especially those run by the handicapped. I'm sure it makes some difference that everyone in government is forced to do this, but is it a rational economic policy?

And unfortunately, rather than trying to have a rational agricultural policy based on, oh, I don't know, ecology and nutrition, we continue on our same path, only with a few token symbolic gestures. We in the USDA were told last summer that, to reinforce Mrs. Obama's message of good nutrition and healthy exercise, we should set up "People's Gardens" (only don't call them that; it sounds Communist!) and share our bounty with the surrounding community while also providing nutritious recipes and good advice, however, not to do it on government time, but only in our spare time. So we did, believe it or not, and our unit came up with quite a nice model garden that got lots of press and which donated a huge amount of food to a very grateful local food kitchen for the homeless. Of course, local activists read the paper and accused us of selling tainted vegetables in order to exterminate poor people. So we had to stop.

Meanwhile, alfalfa is feeding animals so we can have more meat.
posted by acrasis at 11:40 AM on January 29, 2011


acrasis: we in the government are ordered NOT TO BUY FROM WALMART; we must buy from small businesses, especially those run by the handicapped. I'm sure it makes some difference that everyone in government is forced to do this ....

Are we working for the same [US Federal] government? Because I can assure you that not only are my choices as a consumer neither "ordered" nor "forced," there has never been even a hint of a suggestion that I prioritize certain types of businesses over others. Not one memo, not one email, not one rumor. And if you meant gov't procurement, rather than private shopping habits gov't employees, Sodexho & ADM have received ~$21M and ~$76M for FY2011 to date, respectively [source: usaspending.gov] -- well above any small business contracts for food services & ag products.
posted by Westringia F. at 1:21 PM on January 29, 2011


alfalfa is feeding animals so we can have more meat

I am more concerned about GM alfalfa's effect on the dairy industry than on the beef side. GM alfalfa in the dairy food chain has huge implications for organic labeling.

One of the things I considered putting in the main post, but took out because it felt far too much like editorializing, is that Monsanto has licensed the Roundup Ready alfalfa patent to a company called Forage Genetics International, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Land O' Lakes. Land O' Lakes, which you may know primarily as a butter company, processes 12 billion gallons of milk a year into a variety of dairy products sold in all US states and internationally.
posted by catlet at 1:31 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, but I love Vilsack. He's the first Secretary we've had who's genuinely acknowledged the department's homophobia and racism and done something about it.

An illustration of the pitfalls of viewing all through the lens of a single issue.
posted by spock at 7:01 PM on January 29, 2011


What entices a person to go work for Monsanto? Are they paying twice as much as other companies for comparable positions?

Why do you work where you work? Same reasons.
posted by gjc at 9:39 AM on January 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


This anti-GM stuff just kills me. EVERYTHING WE EAT is genetically modified. It is sort of how life works.
posted by gjc at 9:42 AM on January 30, 2011


> This anti-GM stuff just kills me. EVERYTHING WE EAT is genetically modified. It is sort of how life works.

This is pretty facile. There's a big difference between cross-breeding and manipulating DNA, especially when we're talking about the monocultures Monsanto is after.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:10 AM on January 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


GM crop discussions do not seem to be one of those things the internet does well.
posted by maryr at 1:28 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"...the coexistence approach emphasized seed purity, compensation to farmers for crop contamination, and USDA oversight..."

Because RoundUp-ready alfalfa is only used in hermetically sealed fields where there's no chance of gene exchange with the outside world. And because Monsanto has such a good relationship with farmers already. And because USDA will be able to enforce a complete gene recall if anything goes wrong.

The sad part of this (political manipulation of the regulatory process*) is that Monsanto is going to use this to rationalize the release of more "products" down the road, and expect the same kind of treatment.

* Yes, it happens all the time. That's no excuse - see Deregulation, Banking for more details.
posted by sneebler at 7:02 PM on January 30, 2011


And because Monsanto has proved itself so trustworthy.

Here, have a Monsanto hamburger! GM bun, GM mustard, GM beef fed GM grain, with a GM tomato slice and ketchup, GM soy filler, and a dollop of mayonnaise with a GM grain-fed GM laying chicken's egg as a main ingredient!

In the past fifty years, we've mastered the interactions of a billion year-old ecosystem. My, we do think highly of ourselves!
posted by five fresh fish at 7:17 PM on January 30, 2011


That's an ecosystem in the same way that agricultural commodity futures derivatives are family farming.
posted by clarknova at 3:59 PM on January 31, 2011


There is no food that is not genetically modified. Selective breeding and crossbreeding to produce ideal species of food plants or food animals is the foundation of agriculture. Carrots used to be purple until we bred 'em orange, and the wild ancestors of domesticated animals are almost unrecognizable.

There are issues worth consideration when deciding whether a GM crop should be introduced. Does it negatively impact the people who eat it, having some toxic effect or terrible taste compared to non-GM alfalfa? Does it outcompete other plants where it's planted, to deleterious effect on the local environment? Does Monsanto have a legal leg to stand on if it tries to claim copyright on cross-pollinated crops? Those are valid concerns, if unaddressed. Whether some pollen might drift over to an "organic" farmer's fields in the first place, because that might mean they're not technically organic by their particular arbitrary definition of the term? Non-issue.
posted by kafziel at 9:16 AM on February 1, 2011


That argument might be a winner—if the GM we're talking about were selective breeding.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:08 AM on February 1, 2011


Yeah, I'm surprised people here would push that line that GM is no different from selective breeding. After all, it's so easy to cross breed a tomato species that resists a specific industrial defoliant!
posted by Burhanistan at 10:19 AM on February 1, 2011


So it's OK if the trait come from another tomato but not from another plant or bacteria?
posted by maryr at 6:43 PM on February 1, 2011


The problem is lack of testing and monopoly ownership.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:38 PM on February 1, 2011


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