In a press release through Reuters on Jan. 27, 2011, the word came down that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved GMO alfalfa without restrictions and that the alfalfa can be planted as early as this spring. Surprising few in the agricultural community, Secretary Vilsack stated that there are no doubts about GMO crop safety and that APHIS has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa.
Many in the industry had expected that a compromise was in the works that would place limitations and restrictions on planting Roundup Ready alfalfa and that the process of defining those limits and restrictions would delay approval past spring planting time. This worry proved unnecessary as no restrictions were announced on Thursday. Many conventional and organic producers are very worried that pollen from Roundup Ready alfalfa carried by the bee pollinators will end up pollinating their conventional or organic alfalfa seed sources. Actual hay and feed producers have less to be concerned about since if they are managing their alfalfa correctly, the crop should never reach the seed set stage of growth. Also since alfalfa has its own regulatory means (autotoxicity) of preventing self-generated seed from germinating and establishing in an established stand of alfalfa, there should be minimal chance of contamination of a stand during its lifetime as a hay, greenchop, haylage, or grazing field.
Secretary Vilsack said that the USDA would promote research into how genetics could be used as a means of preventing contamination and research designed to improve detection of any contamination that might occur. The Secretary will have the USDA set up two advisory committees to help ensure the availability of high-quality seed and to set up programs to try to protect the purity of the alfalfa germplasm base.