Washington state testing alfalfa for GMO contamination
But even though U.S. regulators have deemed biotech alfalfa to be as safe as non-GMO varieties, many foreign buyers will not accept the genetically modified type because of concerns about the health and environmental safety of such crops.
ACX Pacific - a major exporter of alfalfa and other grass hay off the Pacific Northwest to countries that include Japan, Korea, China and parts of the Middle East - will not accept any GMO because so many foreign buyers are so opposed to it.
And domestic organic dairy farmers have said that any contamination of the hay they feed their animals could hurt their sales.
"This is terribly serious," said Washington state senator Maralyn Chase, a Democrat who fears alfalfa exports could be lost if it is proven that GMO alfalfa has mixed in with conventional supplies.
The possibility of alfalfa contamination comes as Washington state voters weigh a ballot initiative that would require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. A similar measure failed to pass in California last year.
The issue also arises as USDA continues to investigate the contamination of the wheat grown in Oregon.
Monsanto discontinued work on the experimental wheat variety in 2005 because of widespread industry opposition and boycott threats by international buyers. The April discovery of the GMO wheat in Oregon triggered lawsuits and led to some lost export sales of the grain.