14/01/2011

Farmers Alarmed at Impending Approval of GE-Alfalfa

 

GE-Free NZ farmer members are highly concerned about the impending approval of GE lucerne/alfalfa (Medico sativa) in the United States of America, and resulting contamination in supplies of lucerne used as animal forage. Alfalfa and lucerne are the same plant harvested at different growing stages, and lucerne is an important stock forage plant in New Zealand.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) website [1] states –

“Production of Lucerne for livestock and alfalfa sprouts in New Zealand relies on seed imported from large breeding programmes in the US, Australia and Europe because the NZ industry is very small”

“If the GE version of alfalfa/lucerne is approved for commercial release it is imperative that New Zealand’s alfalfa seed importers look to other markets and Identity-Preservation systems. This is vital to ensure that New Zealand farmers can preserve GE Free production and their '100% pure New Zealand' brand-reputation," says Claire Bleakley President of GE Free NZ (in food and environment).

GE-Free NZ members have further highlighted concerns about the precedent-setting final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the planting of Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. This statement by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) explicitly acknowledges that GE contamination of organic and conventionally grown crops presents a huge problem in the U.S. [2] The report also pushes the responsibility and liability for avoiding GE contamination onto the farmer who does not want it. (see excerpts below)

New Zealand is an exporter of high-quality foods and contamination cannot be allowed. The USDA statement directly flies in the face of public assurances for co-existence made by Dr. William Rolleston Chairman of The Life Sciences Network [3] who is also chairman of the new board of Innovation at the new Ministry of Science and Innovation.

"Dr Rolleston continues to proclaim that GE can co-exist with conventional agricultural seed production, but fails to mention this is only possible if GE contamination is allowed to become part and parcel of New Zealand's agricultural landscape," says Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE free NZ.

“If GE alfalfa/ lucerne is approved it will present not only a large contamination problem for the US but also for New Zealand farmers who rely on imported alfalfa seed for farm management."

The new Ministry of Science and Innovation must rectify this problem immediately by funding the development of GE-free alfalfa/lucerne seed that will ensure New Zealand farmers are able to supply high quality 'clean, safe' food to overseas markets.

“This is an issue where Dr. Rolleston can demonstrate if there is any truth in his his claim that he has no conflict of interest between his LSN leadership-role and his Government appointment to the Innovation board." says Ms Bleakley.

GE Free NZ would like to commend the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries on their ‘zero” tolerance stance and stringent biosecurity protocols ensuring that imported seed is free of GE contamination.

"New Zealand must maintain its gold-standard position as a producer of high quality, safe, and clean food. Anything less would be a devastating attack on our economy and the ultimate betrayal of the national interest and the value of the 100% Pure brand image that benefits all New Zealanders, as well as consumers around the world," says Jon Carapiet.

ENDS:

Contact:

Jon Carapiet 0210507681

Claire Bleakley 06 3089842 /027 3486731

References:

[1] Why does New Zealand Import lucerne/alfalfa seed?

What is Medico sativa?

http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/node/2333/related_faqs?page=1&expand=2583

[2] Environmental Impacts of GT Alfalfa www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/downloads/alfalfa/gt_alfalfa%20_feis.pdf

[3] William Rolleston, GM to Farm or not to Farm GM http://www.monsantopakistan.com/news/pakshowlib1f1c.html?uid=6375

Selected excerpts from the FEIS report -

Several of the recommended GT alfalfa stand removal herbicides result in restrictions regarding what crops can be planted next, so careful crop rotation plans are necessary when using GT alfalfa. (Appendix G-9)

Gene flow through pollen or seed movement from herbicide resistant populations can provide a source of herbicide resistant alleles in non-herbicide resistant populations or fields, though this is less likely than evolved resistance (Beckie 2006). (Appendix G-29)

The results indicated that glyphosate use for weed control prior to crop emergence is associated with low risks of resistance. These low risks can be further reduced by applying glyphosate in sequence with other broad-spectrum herbicides prior to crop seeding. (Appendix G -29)

Because weed seed banks in the soil can contain large reservoirs of dormant weed seed, short term studies (a few years) might not detect the full potential shift in weed communities (Harker et al. 2005). However, sometimes weeds shift can be observed within a few years. For example, field trial studies comparing the GT weed management system to conventional control strategies in San Joaquin Valley, CA, demonstrated that ineffective control of burning nettle with glyphosate can lead to significant increases in the population of this weed over a three-year period in GT alfalfa (Van Deynze et al. 2004). (Appendix G-30)

Glyphosate-resistant biotypes have recently been identified for the following eleven weeds that are also common in alfalfa: common ragweed, horseweed, Italian ryegrass, Johnson grass, Palmer Amaranth, buckhorn plantain, goose grass, jungle rice, perennial ryegrass, tall water hemp, and kochia (Effects of Glyphosate-Resistant Weeds in Agricultural Systems [appendix G; section 4.1.1] (86 iii Affected Environment FEIS)

“Growers who wish to avoid gene flow (e.g., those who produce hay for markets that reject GE crops) should pay attention to flowering habits (avoiding simultaneous flowering) and harvest schedules, and disallow or remove commercial beekeepers’ hives. Although the hay harvest date can be delayed a week or more by wet weather or equipment failure, harvesting before the ripe seed stage is possible in all but the most extreme circumstances.”

Certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices that meet the requirements of the [Organic Foods Protection] Act and the [National Organic Program] regulations. This regulation prohibits the use of excluded methods in organic operations. The presence of a detectable residue of a product of excluded methods alone does not necessarily constitute a violation of this regulation. As long as an organic operation has not used excluded methods and takes reasonable steps to avoid contact with the products of excluded methods [including genetically engineered crops] as detailed in their approved organic system plan, the unintentional presence of the products of excluded methods should not affect the status of an organic product or operation.” (p.162 FEIS)

Projected Market Adoption Rates by Region, Glyphosate-Tolerant Alfalfa Shows that in 10 years GT alfalfa/Lucerne will reach 51%.

Glyphosate can also either inhibit or mobilize various elements, including Al, Fe, Cu, Zn, Ni, P, Si, and As in soil, depending on various factors such as the amount of clay or organic matter (Barrett and McBride, 2006).

Increasing isolation distance from GT alfalfa would be an important mitigation strategy for non-GT seed production, especially for seed destined for GE sensitive markets. The new AOSCA program for facilitating successful seed production for GE sensitive markets specifies the required isolation in this process-based certification (AOSCA, 2010): five miles from any AOSCA unaffiliated alfalfa production, two miles from any hay GT production, and 900 feet from any and all feral alfalfa with bloom monitoring. This standard is meant to provide seed that is process certified to be unlikely to have detectible GT transgene in standard testing procedures. (p. 204 Environmental Impacts)

As discussed in section IV.B and appendix V, unintentional gene flow from GT alfalfa to non-GT alfalfa and unintentional mixing of GT alfalfa seed with non-GT alfalfa seed would likely result in AP of GT alfalfa in non-GT alfalfa. (p.208 Environmental Impacts)

GT crops that have been deregulated in the past, such as GT cotton and soybeans, may have also contributed to an increase in the incidence of glyphosate-resistant weeds. (p.234 Environmental consequences)





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