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Modified alfalfa stirs debate in Texas

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
San Antonio (UPI) Mar 3, 2011
The U.S. government's approval of genetically modified alfalfa is generating controversy in Texas, with organic farmers saying it will contaminate their crops.

Cameron Molberg at the Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill outside Austin compares genetically modified alfalfa to a plague.

Its spreading use means pollen blown in or carried from the bio-engineered alfalfa could contaminate organic alfalfa fields, forcing feed mills like his and organic dairies to find other feed stock to keep going, he says.

"The small, independent dairies reliant on organic alfalfa will be out of business," he told the San Antonio Express News. "There's really no way to stop it."

In late January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the planting of the altered alfalfa, genetically modified to withstand the effects of the weed killer Roundup, after nearly four years of litigation.

The National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance endorsed the USDA decision, saying growers need access to the newest technological advances to remain competitive.

But the alliance acknowledges that organic farming has become one of the fastest-growing sectors in agriculture, and organic alfalfa is an important component of that sector.

Beth Nelson, the alliance's president, said organic alfalfa producers have expressed concerns about the possibility that genetically modified alfalfa would overrun organic and conventionally grown alfalfa, destroying their value.

Appropriate harvesting standards for the different types of alfalfa should resolve the issues, Nelson said, and allow different types of growers to survive

However, George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, said officials cannot guarantee that cross-contamination can be prevented and said the center plans to sue the USDA to try to reverse its decision.

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