Food safety group demands probe in tainted alfalfa
The incident comes at a time when the U.S. government is trying to establish protocols for what it calls "co-existence" of biotech crops with conventional and organic crops. The aim, it says, is to protect the purity of supplies.
But it revives claims from critics that co-existence is impossible, and allegations that agricultural regulators are failing to protect farmers who want to ensure the purity of their conventional or organic crops.
The USDA and the companies that produced the Roundup Ready alfalfa seeds said traces of the genetically engineered trait in conventional crops was not out of bounds. They said they were not aware of any evidence that the tainted seed was sold before final regulatory approval.
"The low-level presence of GE traits in that seed is within the amount allowed under federal law and industry guidelines," said Rebecca Lentz, a spokeswoman for Forage Genetics Inc, which developed Roundup Ready alfalfa in partnership with Monsanto.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week that the department was seeking public comment on how to achieve the co-existence goal. A USDA advisory committee is trying to set standards for compensating farmers whose crops are contaminated, and mitigation techniques to minimize gene flow between crops.
"USDA supports all forms of agriculture and wants each sector to be as successful as possible providing products to markets in the United States and abroad," the USDA said as part of Vilsack's announcement.
Roundup Ready alfalfa contains a gene that makes the plants able to tolerate treatments of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide to kill weeds. Many of the Roundup Ready crops have been popular with U.S. farmers and are widely used across the country.
But many supporters of organic and conventional agriculture have warned for years that genetically altered crops are mingling with and eroding the supply of non-genetically altered seed. They pointed to alfalfa as especially difficult to keep separate because of the perennial nature of the crop.
Peila said he is disappointed the government is not doing more to protect markets for growers of non-GMO crops. He is now seeking a domestic buyer for his crop and fears he will receive a lower price for his alfalfa and likely not regain any export business.
"They (the USDA) are not protecting us," he said in an interview with Reuters. "We fear a loss of all conventional seed in the near future."