Despite impassioned lobbying from organic consumers and organic dairies and grass-fed beef ranchers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on January 27 approved the use of genetically engineered alfalfa created by Monsanto. As a result of the deregulation, the chemical company’s Roundup Ready alfalfa—which can withstand heavy spraying of Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide—will be available for unlimited planting this spring.

Alfalfa is one of the most widely used forage crops for dairy and beef farmers around the world. The ruling by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack provided no restrictions against planting GMO alfalfa next to organic crops. This substantially increases the risk of cross-contamination given that alfalfa is pollinated by bees and other insects.

The USDA’s decision ignited an outcry within the U.S. organic community. "Organic and others are now left, once again, having to take all the precautions while biotech takes little responsibility," said  Liana Hoodes, director of the National Organic Coalition.  

“We’re disappointed with USDA’s decision and we will be back in court representing the interest of farmers, preservation of the environment and consumer choice” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety.

“Last spring more than 200,000 people submitted comments to the USDA highly critical of the substance and conclusions of its Draft EIS on GE Alfalfa,” added Kimbrell.  “Clearly the USDA was not listening to the public or farmers but rather to just a handful of corporations."