Alfalfa grown in a field in Washington was rejected by foreign buyers last month after it was found to contain Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” genetically modified organism.
For many American farmers these are the seeds of trouble.
After a Washington farmer had his alfalfa crop rejected for export last month because it tested positive for genetically modified organisms, the United States Department of Agriculture is considering what steps it might take to prevent further cross-contamination.
“We’re still in discussion with the Washington State Department of Agriculture to determine what if any actions are warranted, what our next steps will be,” USDA spokesman Ed Curlett told Reuters.
The alfalfa crop, which was grown near the town of Royal City, contained traces of Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” trait, a genetically engineered modification that allows the plants to tolerate greater amounts of pesticide.
While Monsanto’s seeds can result in greater yields for farmers, 64 countries around the world ban the importation of GMO crops, and the Washington grower was unaware that he was growing genetically engineered alfalfa.
This marks the second time in recent months that a crop was rejected for export because it was found to be contaminated with a Monsanto’s GMO seeds. In May, “Roundup Ready” wheat was discovered in an Oregon farmer’s fields, prompting many Asian nations to suspend imports.
Alfalfa is the fourth largest exported U.S. crop, accounting for roughly $1.25 billion in annual sales.
Voters in Washington will decide in November whether to pass an initiative requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods, and the discovery of GMO alfalfa has now become a central issue in the campaign to pass the ballot measure.
“There are 64 countries across the globe that already require labeling and American consumers deserve the same right,” George Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety, told KING 5 News Seattle. “When these shipments are rejected, these (export) markets are lost. They don’t come back,” said Kimbrell.
Exports of hay and alfalfa bring the United States an estimated $1.25 billion each year, and Washington accounts for roughly $100 million of that annual total.
While the USDA approved “Roundup Ready” alfalfa in 2011, many farmers argue that it is increasingly hard to prevent cross-contamination because the crop is pollinated by honeybees. In fact, many growers say they can’t know until harvest whether their alfalfa may contain genetically modified organisms until it is too late.
“Our state’s farmers are becoming collateral damage to the reckless practices of the agriculture industry in this country,” Washington State Sen. Maralyn Chase said. “More than 60 of our trade partners throughout the world have bans on the import of unlabeled GMO foods.”