USDA Listening Sessions on Roundup Ready Alfalfa

Howard Vlieger, FARFA Board member, attended the USDA listening session on Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa in Lincoln, Nebraska on February 4, 2010. Below is his first-hand report.

The weather (rain, sleet and snow) certainly affected the attendance. Approximately 15 people attended as well as 6 USDA employees. I went to testify in opposition to RR alfalfa. I was the only person who spoke against RR alfalfa.

The evidence of the deceptive stories and false advertising that the pro-GMO biotech companies promote, rang very true in the words spoken by those in attendance, who spoke in favor of RR alfalfa. There were was one gentleman who tried to convince those in attendance that the GMO process is the same plant breeding technique that has been used since wheat and corn were developed a thousand years ago. It is sad that more people do not understand that this is not true.

There is a huge difference between the natural cross breeding of plants and the inserting of genes and traits in vitro in a laboratory with a gene insertion gun. The GMO insertion process takes genes or events from unlike species and shoots them into the DNA of the plant with a shot gun type gene insertion gun. There is also a virus, an antibiotic resistant gene or a genetically engineered agro-bacterium inserted with the foreign gene. The insertion process damages the DNA of the plant upon insertion with NO knowledge or CONTROL over which DNA molecule(s) will be damaged or displaced during the insertion process. The potential side effects of the changes in the protein make up of the grain and forage of the GMO plant are virtually unknown and certainly untested.

There were 3 gentlemen who spoke of how RR alfalfa, conventional non-GMO alfalfa and organic alfalfa could coexist. Two of the gentlemen went as far as to assert that they raised RR alfalfa side by side with organic alfalfa in the same field. I don’t recall any of them saying they did any DNA analysis to determine the amount of contamination of the conventional and organic crops from the RR crop. Honey bees do not know the difference between the 2 crops. Once the honey bees contaminate the conventional alfalfa with the DNA of the RR alfalfa the fine folks from the biotech company can come and trespass on the unsuspecting farmer’s field and sue him for not paying a tech fee on the seed he never actually purchased.

It would also be interesting to know who the organic certifier is for these gentlemen. To raise RR and organic alfalfa side by side in the same field without any type of buffer strip would violate every standard written for organic production. There is a minimum of a 33 foot buffer strip required between certified organic crops and other crops. This causes a person to think about how much truth was spoken in this instance.

Then there was the story about the science behind the RR alfalfa and the safety of it. However no one produced any scientific evidence of a properly conducted independent long term study on RR alfalfa or any other GMO crop. This is probably because there are NO such studies. Every study that has been properly conducted on GMOs, shows negative side effects to the health of the animals in the test.

The supporting evidence that I submitted with my written testimony referenced 3 papers published in scientific journals and one paper on a sugar beet study conducted by the USDA ARS in Colorado. The results of all of these showed negative effects (plant disease and damage to soil microorganisms) from glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide) when used on glyphosate resistant (GR) crops.

There was also one gentleman who claimed to have traveled to India and witnessed the need for more food because of all of the people in India that do not have enough to eat. He asserted that if we do not have GMOs we will not be able to feed the growing population. I certainly believe that the poor people of the world deserve enough food to be well nourished and more but the starving people of the world are not going hungry because of a shortage of food.

But what about the claim that GMO crops increase yield? The University of Nebraska Lincoln has conducted research that proves GMO crops actually yielded less than conventional crops. Yield results in corn from Ohio State University show conventional corn varieties out yielding GMO varieties. The Union of Concerned Scientists published a research paper that shows GMO crops yield less than the conventional crops.

The single most consistent increasing item associated with GMO crops is the cost of the seed. Depending on which GMO crop you examine the seed costs have increased much faster than yields. In 1993 before GMOs, cotton seed was $45-$60 per 50 lb. bag. Today cotton seed only costs $697.19 per 280,000 (not 50 lbs.) seed count bag. To be fair the tech fee is only $412.20 per bag of the $697.19. The fungicide and insecticide seed treatment is $125 per bag.

This seed treatment was not needed in 1993 before glyphosate was used year after year and damaged the soil to an extent that now opportunistic fungi and insects prohibit good emergence of plants without these seed treatments. Seed corn was $60 – $80 per bag before GMO seed corn, today GMO seed corn is priced over $400 per bag. I could go on but I think you get the point.

Then the last version of why we need RR alfalfa was: As a multi generation family farmer (a young lady from SE Minnesota wearing a seed company coat who was over heard to say she also attended the session in Kearney, Ne. the day before) I should have the right to plant whatever I want. OK, I agree. So let’s see the person who has the right to plant the RR crop as well as the company who owns the patent rights to the RR crop, be held responsible for the damages resulting from the contamination of the neighbors crop. They can also be liable to livestock operations who buy this GMO grain and feed it to their livestock. So when animals get sick and need veterinary attention or worse die because of the toxins caused by the GMO crops, these losses will be paid for by both the biotech seed company and the farmer who wanted to have the right to plant the GMO crop.

This multi generation family farmer and the company holding the patent on the GMO crop can also pay the organic farmer and the non-GMO crop farmer for the loss of income when they can not sell their organic or non-GMO crop as non-GMO or organic because of GMO contamination. Then we need to address who pays for the damage to the soil from the use of glyphosate and RR crops. Will farmers using these RR farming practices be held responsible for the damage caused by flooding because the soil can not hold the amount of water that it used to before RR crops? Will farmers using glyphosate on RR crops pay for the damage that causes disease and fungus problems in neighboring fields? The opportunistic fungi does not know where the fence line is located when the wind is blowing. What is the total cost? Can you buy this type of liability insurance?

The saddest part of the whole day was the reality that each of these individuals does not get to hear the truth. The radio ads and farm publications are dominated with advertising from chemical and biotech seed companies. They certainly can afford to advertise with the amount of tech fees they are collecting from farmers on GMO seed. It is to bad that the research conducted by Dr. Kremer at the University of Missouri and Dr. Huber at Purdue University (2 of their research papers are attached to this email) is not printed by farm publications.

This research proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that glyphosate and RR crops are causing damage to the soil and establishing the perfect environment for disease and fungus to thrive. This opportunistic fungi causes mold and micotoxins to end up in the grain and food supply. I don’t blame any of these individuals for this reality. When you hear something often enough, regardless of how wrong or untrue it is, sooner or later you will begin to believe it. Hopefully we can get the word out about the truth!

~Howard Vlieger

***Copies of the studies referenced by Mr. Vlieger are available on request. email