Alfalfa hay growers targeting organic or export markets needn’t worry that their fields will be contaminated with the Roundup Ready gene, says Mark McCaslin.

Interviewed last Thursday shortly after USDA announced that Roundup Ready alfalfa will be deregulated without restrictions, the president of Forage Genetics International emphasized that “Alfalfa is a forage crop, harvested well before the ripe seed stage. There’s no evidence of gene flow from one hayfield to another. To suggest otherwise is just not accurate. Gene flow in alfalfa is not a hay issue.”

In seed production, he says Roundup Ready and non-Roundup Ready seed fields have successfully co-existed since 2007, when industry stakeholders, led by the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance (NAFA), developed a set of Best Management Practices for Roundup Ready Alfalfa Seed Production. Included are mandatory distances between seed fields and other practices aimed at minimizing the “adventitious presence” of the biotech gene in conventional seed lots.

The goal of the NAFA best practices was to keep the level of genetically engineered (GE) traits in conventional alfalfa seed below a half percent, a standard similar to that established in the U.S. corn, soybean and cotton industries, says McCaslin. The Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA) annually tests conventional alfalfa seed lots for the presence of the Roundup Ready trait.

“AOSCA’s come back every year of the program and said the NAFA best practices appear to be working as they were designed to do,” he says. “So, can there be effective stewardship programs that manage adventitious presence to very low levels? Absolutely. They are in place and they have been working.”

In addition, “there are other options and programs and efforts under way to make sure that we can manage adventitious presence to levels that are acceptable to export, organic and other various markets.”

One of those efforts is a proposal to “segregate and concentrate” Roundup Ready and GE-sensitive seed production. Groups of growers will be encouraged to approach seed companies with proposals to grow only Roundup Ready or GE-sensitive seed in return for long-term production contracts, higher prices or other incentives.

“The more we can segregate and concentrate, the easier it will be for the industry to manage this,” says McCaslin. “Whether it’s GE or GE-sensitive, we want to create opportunities for seed growers to help us.”