Is It Too Late To Say NO To Genetically Modified Alfalfa?

By: Thomas Hagey - Kw Now! Local News
| Published 04/10/2013

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Fighting The Brave New World Of Alfalfa

Does Monsanto Really Represent Science Out Of Control?

To most urban dwellers Alfalfa isn't even on their radar. They may have purchased Alfalfa sprouts in their grocery store produce department and most likey enjoyed them in a salad or as greenery on a sandwich to top off their favourite fillings.

Alfalfa is like candy when compared to other grasses or forage. It smells glorious and cattle and other farm species really love it.

But what would happen if genetically modified Alfalfa was introduced and threatened the purity and integrity of the alfalfa strains which currently exist? What impact would it have on the farmers who presently grow non-GM Alfalfa? How would it affect the organic farmers who raise and and sell livestock dependant on a non-contaminated food source? How would it affect humans who consume this livestock?

83 % of the Alfalfa being grown presently isn't sprayed with herbicides. To organic farmers the coming of Genetically Modified Alfalfa potentially threatens their livelihood. But it's not just about the organic producers. In fact this is one area that organic and non-organic producers agree wholeheartedly. Over the past year many urban consumers across Ontario have been brought up to speed in seed genetics by the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the CBAN (Canadian Biotechnology Action Network).

Protest Rallies were staged across the province and in western Canada in order to put a halt to the licencing of Genetically Modified Alfalfa -- otherwise known as Roundup Ready Alfalfa --in the Canadian seed marketplace.

Suddenly those little sprouts took on a whole new face and they are on the front burner in a hot topic in a fight to save Alfalfa as we presently know it.

But what's really at stake here, according to NFU and CBAN are the rights of farmers and the potential safety of consumers and Canadian families both now and in the future.

What Does Roundup Do?

If you've ever driven through the countryside and have seen a field which looks very brown and dead, there is a good chance that the farmer has sprayed it with Roundup to kill every plant and weed in preparation of reseeding the land with another grain or crop. Roundup,or the chemical glyphosate is the Agent Orange of weed destruction, and potentially, as protest groups claim, could be dangerous to other plant life, and potentially animal life.

What IS Roundup Ready Alfalfa?

RRA (Roundup Ready Alfalfa) is designed to withstand direct application of glyphosate, the active ingredient in herbicide formulations manufactured and sold by Monsanto by the commercial name Roundup.

A farmer planting this genetically engineered form of alfalfa could spray glyphosate directly on or over crops to remove weeds without harming the alfalfa plants.

Monsanto and Forage Genetics developed RRA to "increase alfalfa forage and seed purity through better control of most of the weeds that impact forage and seed production;" "enable alfalfa production on marginal lands with severe weed infestations;" and "provide growers with a weed-control system that has a reduced risk profile for the environment"; among other things.

RRA was contested in the U.S. Courts. Farm and citizen groups also tried to stop the deregualtion of RRA. They argued that deregulation of RRA poses significant risks to the environment.

First, deregulation will increase the use of glyphosate, which is toxic to various plant and animal species.

Second, replacing conventional alfalfa with RRA may worsen the problem of glyphosate resistant weeds. When glyphosate is used year after year, weeds naturally resistant to glyphosate survive, and may then reproduce and flourish.

Third, deregulation could result in increased gene flow from genetically engineered crops to conventional, organic, and wild plants.

Plaintiffs contend that such transgenic contamination could result in the loss of natural varieties of alfalfa and hurt organic growers, whose customers demand conventional and organic foods free of transgenic content.