Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Alfalfa: not worth the risk


Genetically modified Alfalfa

If you’re over fifty, you have to be wondering about what kind of mess we are leaving to our children and grandchildren. Especially when it comes to GMO

A genetically modified version of alfalfa is now being sold and planted in fields this spring, and its effects could be wide-spread, pernicious, and impossible to reverse.

Alfalfa is a popular “perennial forage crop” eaten by livestock, especially cows, either on pasture or in preserved forms like hay or feed pellets. It is also an important food source for bees. Alfalfa, while being a nutritious animal feed, also adds nitrogen to the soil while it grows and improves soil health and texture by adding organic matter.

Ten years ago, a version of alfalfa was genetically modified to be resistant to Monsanto’s pesticide Roundup, also known as glyphosate. Like other Roundup Ready crops, this genetically modified alfalfa is meant to allow farmers to spray broad-spectrum herbicides to kill weeds without harming the alfalfa crop.

According to Monsanto, the intent is to allow farmers to use less pesticide. But the effect may ultimately be the opposite: while Roundup Ready crops are relatively new, in many places they have already become weeds. If you grow Roundup Ready soybeans in a field one year, and corn the next, leftover soybean seeds can act as herbicide resistant weeds. Moreover, genetically modified traits are not limited to the crops they are put into.

Most domesticated crops we depend on have wild ancestors and wild relatives with whom they exchange genes and as herbicide-resistant genes move into feral plants, farmers will have to spray more herbicide, not less, to kill these new genetically modified weeds.

Genetically modified alfalfa was at first held back from both Canada and the US markets because of deep concerns about the its long-term effects.

There is no way to isolate a genetically modified alfalfa crop

Bees are amazingly effective pollinators: they move pollen many kilometers. Because bees feed and pollinate alfalfa, there is no way to isolate a genetically modified alfalfa crop in an area where bees cannot carry the genes to an unmodified alfalfa flower.

Once planted, there is no possible way to stop the genetically modified trait from spreading to organic and conventional farms and crops.

Many organic dairy farms depend on alfalfa

Alfalfa is a key species in our pasture and hay fields, along with other perennials like clover. Because it is a perennial, it is reliable. Its deep root systems make it resistant to drought and the challenging whether that climate change is already bringing. But again, the genetically modified trait has turned those very qualities against us. Unlike annual crops, which are mostly finished after a single year if not replanted, the genes in perennials like alfalfa will persist forever. Once released, there is no way to contain it.

How this will ultimately affect organic farmers and our certification is unclear, but it will not be good. Conventional farmers and the land itself may ultimately suffer from a crop that will mean more herbicide-resistant weeds and more pesticides sprayed.


King Global Earth & Environmental Sciences Corporation

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