“We’ve been waiting long enough,” says Phillip Hartman, a Basin, WY, alfalfa seed grower. He’s talking about Roundup Ready alfalfa and the decision facing Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack whether to fully deregulate, deregulate with restrictions or to keep the transgenic seed out of the marketplace.

That decision, according to insiders, should happen soon after a 30-day waiting period ends on Jan. 24. It can’t come soon enough – if that decision allows the planting and sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa – because Hartman has to order leaf-cutter bees and prepare a possible 500 acres for planting.

Those opposing Roundup Ready alfalfa complain about how it will hurt organic growers, he adds. “Well, I have been damaged by it the past few years. It’s costing me hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost production.” Right now, he has 200 acres of conventional alfalfa contracted for seed production.

To add insult to injury, Hartman is also a sugar beet grower. When that crop came under court scrutiny, he stopped raising it until it was decided sugar beets could continue to be planted and the sugar sold.

The decision to be made next week can have “far-reaching effects” for other transgenic crops, he warns, and urges the ag secretary to fully deregulate the crop.

The January 21 letter he wrote to USDA, outlining his arguments for deregulation, follows:

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

I am greatly concerned that USDA/APHIS is about to make a decision concerning the deregulation of "Roundup (Ready) Alfalfa" based on political, emotional, personal opinion and so-called "market requirement" influences on what is supposed to be a "science-based" EIS (environmental impact statement) conclusion and recommendation.

As a farmer and alfalfa seed producer in Wyoming, I have been anxiously awaiting the EIS on this very important issue. I produced RR Alfalfa Seed for three years until my contract expired. I have been denied the opportunity to raise the crop of my choice for several years while this EIS is completed. This return to "regulated status" has cost me money in lost production while I wait for the EIS. I have reluctantly accepted this because I agree that we must all follow the law.

At the same time I have been denied the legal right to raise RR Alfalfa Seed I have two organic growers, east and west of me, that have continued to enjoy the privilege of raising organic alfalfa seed and forage. These organic operations have suffered no economic injury these past 4 years. I have actually suffered loss of income in the hundreds of thousands of dollars the past 4 years because my right to grow RR Alfalfa Seed has been restricted. IF some illegal "buffer zone" is enacted who will be allowed to raise their crop of choice?? Will it be me or my organic neighbors? This issue would be one of many to decide if option III with geographic restrictions is enacted.

With no disrespect intended, Mr. Secretary, it is now time for USDA/APHIS to continue to follow the law and completely DEREGULATE alfalfa and allow those of us who wish, to plant RR Alfalfa Forage and produce RR Alfalfa Seed with NO restrictions.

The very extensive EIS that was done by your agency has concluded that GE Alfalfa poses NO PLANT PEST RISK (as described in 7 U.S.C. 7711(c)(3)). No restrictions are required, needed or mandated considering that the EIS has come to this conclusion. Indeed, 7 U.S.C. 7712(a) states that USDA has NO authority to impose any further restrictions on this crop.

Again, I and the alfalfa industry as a whole, have patiently followed the law in NOT planting or continuing to grow any GE Alfalfa Seed and I expect my government to follow the law just as we have.

In answer to the organic community's complaints I would offer the following:

  • 1) In the NOP standards, rules and regulations I would assume GMO crops would come under the category of an "excluded method" or "prohibited substance" as this seems to be the only place GMO crops might fit in and there is no specific reference as to WHAT organic standards would deal with GMO crops.
  • 2) There is no statement, rule or regulation specifically mentioning any reference to "GMO" or "GE" crops so that the conclusion above is the only reasonable one.
  • 3) The NOP regulations themselves put any burden there MAY be on the organic farmers themselves. (considering the results of the EIS there actually is no "burden" as the GMO crop of Alfalfa has been determined to NOT be a "PLANT PEST").
  • 4) The NOP regulations recognize there may be "background levels of synthetic pesticides" of which they refer to as "unavoidable residual environmental contamination" or "UREC". This "residual contamination" as they describe it would also fall into the category of "prohibited substance"... couldn't this also apply to a "low-level presence of a GMO crop"?? It seems that the presence of a GMO crop is being singled out as some unacceptable contaminant when literally thousands of other chemicals, pesticides, and products are accepted as "unavoidable".
  • 5) Given the acknowledgement of "unavoidable contamination" and the tolerance (5% of EPA tolerance) for "prohibited substances" the NOP standards themselves require actions to minimize any contamination of the organic crop. These are recognized measures such as "buffer zones and physical barriers such as a "row of trees to prevent drift of prohibited substances". When these measures are taken by an organic grower they are considered to be accepted measures to allow certification at 100% even with the presence of these "prohibited substances" in the final organic product. In other words an organic crop with "low level presence" of GMO traits can be certified to be 100% organic provided all guidelines of growing the crop are followed. Organic Certification is "PROCESS BASED" and does not rely on "ZERO TOLERANCE FOR PROHIBITED SUBSTANCES".

In conclusion I would offer the following summation concerning organic growers:

Organic growers may be found in compliance with organic requirements, even if GMO's are found in the final product, because the presence of GMO's is not, in itself, a violation of organic requirements. The NOP standards along with the rules and regulations that are attached to them are the nationally recognized laws that govern all organic growers in the United States. They have been introduced, modified and adopted by the vast majority of organic growers in the United States. If there are a small percentage of organic growers who wish to enter into contact with a buyer, foreign or domestic, and guarantee that buyer a product that is beyond the NOP standards then he is doing so at his own risk and should be the only party accountable for that contract requirement and that additional risk.

The means for organic growers and GMO growers to "coexist" are already in place within the NOP Standards. If there is any contamination it works in both directions. As a grower of a GMO crop I will suffer the same level of contamination that the organic grower MAY suffer from my crop. The difference is the gene inserted into the GMO crop is readily identified with a simple test.

The contamination I will suffer from the organic crop is not easily identified, that doesn't mean it is not an issue in my crop. The fact is, the company that I contract with accepts and understands it to be minimal. The organic grower would not even consider the fact that on organic alfalfa seed crop could be a "plant pest". The EIS done by your agency has determined that GMO Alfalfa is NOT A PLANT PEST as well.

I urge you to follow the law, acknowledge the EIS, and deregulate ALFALFA FORAGE and ALFALFA SEED production in the United States WITHOUT ANY RESTRICTIONS so that those of us who wish to raise a GMO crop can again enjoy the freedom to plant the crop of our choice. We have been denied that freedom long enough and our rights need to be recognized.

THANK YOU, Mr. Secretary.

Respectfully, Phillip Hartman Basin, WY