Monsanto can’t plant its new herbicide-resistant GM alfalfa because the courts say the Bush Administration’s approval of the crop was illegal. Bush’s USDA failed to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement. Obama’s USDA is trying to help Monsanto get its seeds out of the courts and into the fields by making slight adjustments to “business as usual.” They’ve produced an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that finally acknowledges the problem of GMO contamination for organic and other non-GM crops, and proposes ways to prevent this, including geographical restrictions and buffer zones for GM alfalfa seed and hay production. These limits on GM alfalfa production would be the first significant regulation of GMO crops. Corn, soy, cotton, and canola are currently grown without any restrictions and there’s nothing to stop organic varieties of these crops from being contaminated. In this respect, the Obama USDA’s proposal is a positive step forward, but it doesn’t go far enough to protect farmers or consumers.
First, it assumes that GM alfalfa is safe for farm animals to consume, that GM alfalfa sprouts are safe to eat, that humans can be safely exposed to modified alfalfa genes in milk and meat, and that herbicide-resistant alfalfa is safe for the environment. But the USDA hasn’t researched the safety of GM alfalfa, even though it is widely known that GM foods are more likely to trigger allergies; that GM foods are less nutritious; often toxic to lab and farm animals; and capable of contaminating human digestive bacteria. The USDA is also overlooking evidence that herbicide-resistant crops destroy soil, reduce soil capacity to sequester greenhouse gases, make crops more vulnerable to disease, increase herbicide use, and spawn super-weeds that turn farmers to herbicides that are even more dangerous than RoundUp.
Second, while the EIS suggests ways to prevent contamination, it doesn’t say what the remedy will be when the geographical restrictions and buffer zones fail to protect organic and other non-GM farmers from contamination. In the past, Monsanto has successfully sued contaminated farmers, claiming they stole Monsanto’s patented GMO traits. The USDA must make clear that Monsanto would be strictly liable for contamination.
Finally, the EIS doesn’t consider the right of consumers to choose whether or not to eat GM food. The USDA must require mandatory GM labels. This is also the only way to track the public health damage of GMOs in the food supply. If the USDA won’t safety-test GM foods then at least they can inform consumers of how to avoid them and monitor the collateral damage to people who eat GMOs.
Please write to the USDA to tell them what you think of their new Environmental Impact Statement before the comment period ends on January 23, 2011.
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