New Organic Pasture Rule Embraced; Heightens Need to Stop GE Alfalfa

Feb 16, 2010

The new USDA pasture rule has been widely embraced by the organic community and greatly strengthens the integrity of the USDA Organic Seal. This is an important change that should be celebrated by the organizations and consumers across the country who commented on the issue and made it clear that consumers expect that organic livestock have access to pasture. Your voice does count!

And, we can do more. The new ruling also heightens the need to stop the USDA’s proposed deregulation of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. Such deregulation may result in the permanent contamination of organic grazing fields.

National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), a business services cooperative for 112 natural food co-ops nationwide, opposes the deregulation of GE alfalfa and encourages consumers nationwide to tell the USDA they oppose the allowance of GE alfalfa into the nation’s food supply. A public commenting period, originally set to expire Feb. 16, has been extended to March 3.

“The new rule provides clarity on the pasture requirements for organic livestock. It is a huge win for organic farmers and producers in that it strengthens the integrity of the USDA Organic Seal and increases consumer confidence in organic products,” said Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer for NCGA. “Yet, the proposed deregulation of GE alfalfa is poised to undermine these gains by making organic pastures very difficult to maintain.”

The new organic pasture rule establishes grazing access requirements for organic animal producers. NCGA strongly supports the new pasture rule as it ensures organic animals are raised on pasture and given access to the outdoors. Yet, the pasture rules make organic producers of meat, milk, eggs and other animal products more vulnerable to the deregulation of GE alfalfa.

The increased risk is due to the presence of alfalfa in most organic pastures and the likelihood that GE alfalfa would cross-pollinate and contaminate organic pasture – consequently contaminating the organic food source for certified organic livestock. The USDA requires that all organic livestock be fed a diet of organic, non-GE feed.

On Dec. 14, 2009, the USDA released its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) of Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa. TheEIS was produced by the USDA in response to a court decision demanding more thorough analysis of the potential environmental, economic and health impacts of GE alfalfa before approving deregulation. This is the first time the USDA has ever completed an EIS on a GE crop.

”The resulting EIS lacked true scrutiny and concern regarding the possible contamination of the organic food industry," added Liana Hoodes, Director of the National Organic Coalition, a national alliance of organizations, including NCGA, who work to provide a "Washington voice" for organic agriculture. “It fails to fully consider the full range of potential impacts on small farmers, organic consumers and human and environmental health. Fortunately, as with the pasturing standards review, USDA is allowing for consumers to voice their opinions.”

NCGA urges consumers to speak out during the newly extended commenting period ending on March 3. “We strongly encourage consumers to voice their opinions to the USDA to underscore their opposition to this deregulation, in protection of farmers, the USDA Organic Seal, the land and their own food choices,” Shrader concluded. After the comment period, the USDA will vote for full or partial approval of GE alfalfa. A full approval would allow GE alfalfa to be grown and sold without restriction. A partial approval means GE alfalfa could only be grown under permit from the USDA, as is currently allowed.

Consumers can comment through Center for Food Safety's online campaign or directly to USDA:

Online: Submit comments at
Postal mail: mail two copies of comments to arrive no later than March 3 to Docket No. APHIS-2007-0044, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. Submitters should reference Docket No. APHIS-2007-0044 in their comments.