Alfalfa, which organic farmers use in feed for livestock and dairy cattle, is being infected with a genetically altered strain of the crop manufactured by agrichemical giant Monsanto.
So-called RoundUp-ready alfalfa has been bioengineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s bestselling RoundUp weedkiller, a toxic and carcinogenic herbicide also known as glyphosate. This means vast areas can be sprayed with RoundUp, wiping out every form of plant life apart from the modified crop.
The practice is known to lead to the development of “superweeds” that are resistant to all other kinds of herbicides and require ever larger amounts of glyphosate to control.
Groups such as the National Organic Coalition, Center for Food Safety and Northeast Organic Farming Association say that RoundUp Ready alfalfa may wipe out organic varieties in years to come.
“The pollen from alfalfa is carried by insects. Some bees pick up the pollen, some wind picks up the bees, and throws them 10 miles away,” said Larry Jacobs of Jacobs/Del Cabo organic farm in Santa Cruz. “Ultimately you can’t prevent the cross pollination. You run the risk of losing the ability to get alfalfa seeds not contaminated with GMOs [genetically modified organisms].”
Monsanto is already notorious for bringing legal actions against farmers whose crops have been infected with its trademarked GM variety seeds. And the negative health impacts of glyphosate are well documented.
But as organic farmers point out, alfalfa lends itself so well to organic farming because it regulates weeds for itself, without the need for herbicides.
“Ninety-seven per cent of alfalfa [feed] is made without herbicide, because the nature of alfalfa is that you grow it, and there are weeds the first time,” said Jeffrey Larkey of Route 1 Farms in Santa Cruz. “You cut it, there’s a lot fewer weeds. The third time you cut it, there’s hardly any weeds at all. It inhibits other plants from growing.”
Read more about Monsanto’s increasing targeting of the US dairy industry in this Vanity Fair article