RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Consumers Have No Rights to GMO-Free Products

Pop quiz: What is the difference between a Mexican race horse, a Japanese pet hamster and an American herbalist? Answer: No difference. They’re all stakeholders in American alfalfa fields.

Extra Credit if you’ve added: The Obama administration has betrayed their trust. At a time when the administration should be building consumer confidence, they have allowed a few corporations to sneak around public input, the USDA and the Supreme Court. They have approved the planting of genetically modified alfalfa.

Every consumer needs to know what this means: In 2011, GMO alfalfa will be legal, corrupting American alfalfa fields forever. The 2010 crop of alfalfa was the last one we can depend on. And alfalfa is a building block for all herbivore animal diets from honey bees to horses. Those little green pellets in Purina feed for goats, rabbits, horses, cattle? Those are wads of ground-up alfalfa.

Alfalfa is America’s fourth-largest export, so the details are important. The crop, developed to resist Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, contains genes that will allow a planter to plant the seeds, then spray the field with the most powerful weed killer, and see the sprouts pop up through the rubble. (Note to self: Add sprout eaters to the list of stakeholders.)

Every cell of every GMO alfalfa plant (also called genetically engineered, GE, transgenic, or “Frankenstein”) contains the freaky genes and, thus, will be consumed by eaters. Do the weird genes cause harm to the hamster, race horse, tea drinker or sprout consumer? Nobody knows.

But a new disease, for biotech profiteers, is a growth industry. Diseases give pharmaceutical companies more problems to work on and solutions to patent. Wall Street loves diseases.

Some consumers don’t agree to be guinea pigs for medical solutions that benefit industry, however, so they have kept GMOs illegal for use in organic products; buying organic products has been the way for consumers to avoid GMOs.

The biggest winner in the legalization is Land-O-Lakes, a decidedly anti-organic corporation. They had invested heavily in the GMO alfalfa seed before it was approved. They have warehouses full and are itching to use it. Consumer boycotts of Land-O-Lakes have already been announced. Check their web page for a list of their brands.

Since the beginning, it has seemed that alfalfa approval could be stopped. There were 200,000 comments to USDA. Last June, a Supreme Court decision made planting illegal. As reported by Tom Laskawy of, “The Supreme Court ... ruled for the very first time that ‘environmental harm’ includes economic effects such as reduced agricultural yield or loss of market due to genetic contamination, as well as the concept of what biologists refer to as “gene flow” (in practice, the idea that genetically engineered material may get into conventional plants through cross-pollination). The Supreme Court now accepts that this phenomenon in and of itself is harmful and illegal under current environment protections.”

All along, though, Monsanto claimed victory. The Supreme Court decision was, to them, a pothole in the road to a Roundup-paved planet.

Now, it’s clear, the White House was a cheerleader. David Axelrod, an Obama political strategist, appeared at the final hearing and argued against restricting the crop. Maureen Dowd cheerfully reported that Axelrod “urged everyone to plow forward on a plan of genetically produced alfalfa.”

Axelrod was probably feeling cocky because, in the last month, the industry gave cover to the USDA with well-placed op-eds that suggested that the government was playing politics when approval was stalled. The Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed page has repeatedly attacked USDA’s Kathleen Merrigan and Tom Vilsack who expressed doubt about the creepy crop.

As recently as Dec. 30, Vilsack had written an “open letter” that cross-pollination was “a significant concern for farmers who produce for non-GE markets at home and abroad.” The USDA had spoken about a policy of “co-existence,” dividing the nation into zones for GMO and organic fields. Beekeepers, losing their bees to mysterious chemical maladies, have suggested the same thing. They argue that if they know where the chemical use is highest, they’ll refuse to take their bees to that area.

So, let’s tally the losers: race horse, hamster, tea drinker, sprout consumer, bee kr soybeans, and there were still big ruts in one place, but we could see that the alfalfa would hold the soil better than anything she had tried. Now, if any of our neighbors plant the GMO anywhere around, her crop will be corrupted because the pollen from their GMO crops can cross with hers.

Not only that, but if Monsanto decides to check her fields and if they find “their” genes in “her” plants, they can sue her for breach of patent.

Only a giant response from the biggest losers — us — can make a difference. Write your pet food company, lawmakers and feed store owners. Tell them we’ll use this year to study nutrition and, in 2011, the world will be on an alfalfa-free diet.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2011

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