As Christine Bushway, executive director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), sees it, deregulation of GMO alfalfa threatens the growing organic industry. “Preserving market and farmer choice and agricultural diversity are central to USDA’s mission and the future of rural American livelihoods," Bushway said. "This failure to do so will make it increasingly difficult to meet the growing demand for U.S. organic crops.”

According to the OTA, the U.S. organic industry generates $26.6 billion a year in product sales and employs tens of thousands of people around the country. The organic industry supports at least 14,540 family farms operating in rural areas.

"Unrestricted commercialization of genetically engineered crops—86 percent of the country’s corn and 93 percent of soybeans—has resulted in widespread unlabeled presence of GE (genetically engineered) materials in mainstream food products unbeknownst to the average consumer," the OTA reports. According to California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, at least 70 percent of processed foods in American supermarkets now contain GMO ingredients.

More than 20 million acres of alfalfa are grown in the United States, making it the country’s fourth-largest crop by acreage, behind corn, soybeans and wheat, The New York Times reports. About 1 percent of alfalfa grow in the United States is organic.