Opponents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's decision to greenlight the planting of genetically modified alfalfa and sugar beets this spring are using the occasion to rally support for natural and organic foods.
“It is only through continued growth and increased market power that we can have a greater impact in Washington,” wrote Robynn Shrader, CEO of the National Cooperative Grocers Association, in a letter to members.
The Center for Food Safety, the Washington-based organization that led the legal challenge to planting the GM seeds, is enlisting consumers to petition U.S. dairies to commit to using only non-GM alfalfa, which is one of the basic feeds used for organic dairy cattle. At the Non-GMO Project, which organized its first Non-GMO Month for retailers in 2010, the focus is on seed verification.
“With alfalfa in particular there is now a pressing need to maintain a non-GMO seed supply, and it's not going to be easy,” said Megan Westgate, the organization's executive director.
The group is also continuing awareness-raising campaigns via social media outlets like Facebook, where it has more than 33,000 active followers.
Efforts have taken on new urgency since the USDA approved a third GM seed, in February. GM corn seeds from Swiss-based Sygenta, called Enogen, are designed to assist in the production of ethanol. However, critics point out that Enogen GM corn still endangers humans since it is genetically engineered in a way that expresses its trait after harvest. Virtually all GM crops up to this point have been designed to resist pest and chemical applications. Large manufacturers who source grain have stated concerns about the seeds, as they fear it could contaminate their own organic corn sources.
Opponents say it's all the more reason to enlist additional activists.
“Now is the time for us to demonstrate our shared commitment to organic,” Shrader said. “Now is the time to support organic farmers.”