Friday, March 25, 2011

Are the USDA & Monsanto the same organization?

I would argue 'yes'.

For many years, there has been a very cozy relationship between industrial agriculture and the management of the USDA. The most obvious example of this has been the movement of executives between industrial-farming corporations like Monsanto and the USDA.

Back in 2008, when Tom Vilsack was nominated as the new Secretary of Agriculture, he came with a resume that spoke volumes as to what the USDA might look like under his watch:

1. Former governor of Iowa with a track record of supporting genetically-modified crops.

2. Awarded the 'governor of the year' award by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industrial-farming lobbying group.

3. Founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership.

4. Supporter of cloning of dairy cows as a vehicle for economic development.

5. Originated House Bill 671 and Senate Bill 631 in 2005 whose purpose was aim to prevent towns, counties or cities from passing any ordinance, regulation or resolution to control any kind of plant or plant pest (including invasive plant species).

These bills became known as the 'Monsanto Bills' because they usurped local government's right to try and regulate GMO products if the USDA did not. Representative Sandy Greiner, the Republican sponsor of the bill, bragged that Vilsack had put her up to writing this bill shortly after he was elected governor.

6. Vilsack has always been a strong supporter of Monsanto and commonly traveled on Monsanto jets during his 2006 presidential bid.

7. Vilsack strongly supports the use of corn and soy to produce biofuels, even though their production uses as much fossil fuel as they generate. This is a huge money-maker for factory farming in the U.S. and also drives up food prices unnecessarily. Former chair of the Governors' Ethanol Coalition.

On Thursday of last week, the USDA announced approval for unrestricted planting of GMO alfalfa produced by Monsanto and Forge Genetics throughout the United States. As one of the leading feed crops produced, if you eat meat or dairy, you will indirectly consume alfalfa.

Aside from being the fourth largest feed crop in the U.S., alfalfa is notoriously promiscuous with pollen being carried for up to 5 miles by pollinating insects. This means there will be no functional way to prevent GMO genetics from spreading to non-GMO products, the genetic leak that I have discussed in previous postings.

USDA-certified organic products do not allow the intentional or unintentional use of GMO products in their production.

Recently, Sharon Bomer, an executive vice president with the Biotechnology Industry Organization, stated that while there was a 'deep appreciation' within the industry to minimize the spread of genetic material, 'the burden is on them' (organic producers) to protect their crops.

Previous experience with copyright-protected crops have shown that when genetics leak into adjacent fields thru wind and other natural processes, companies like Monsanto do not hesitate to sue for copyright-infringement and theft of genetic materials.

For two years, Vilsak has been promising a way for organics and GMO plants to coexist.

Earlier, the USDA had said that it was considering one of three options:
(1) complete deregulation of GM alfalfa
(2) allowing its planting but requiring five-mile buffer strips between it and non-GMO alfalfa
(3) allowing unrestricted planting except in seed-growing regions to prevent contamination.

When news of Vilsack's considerations made their way to the halls of Congress, Republican lawmakers and conservative organizations were highly critical. On Jan. 19, congressional Republicans told Vilsack that the idea of restricting GE alfalfa was “troubling" and on Jan. 20, there was more of the same from the House Agriculture Committee.

During the 3 weeks that followed, the USDA approved the use of GMO alfalfa, beets, and corn.

GMO alfalfa has been designed to resist the effects of the herbicide Roundup. Previous experience with this overuse of herbicide has been the proliferation of superweeds, or weeds similarly-resistant to the effects of Roundup, in a relatively short period of time. With the release of GMO alfalfa, it is estimated that an additional 23 million pounds of Roundup will be applied to the environment per annum.

Consumer protection, environmental, organic producer, and food safety organizations have filed suit to prevent the release of these products. However, given the certainty and speed of genetic leak, once GMO-alfalfa is released, there is no way to take back what we have put into the genetic swimming pool of our environment.

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