This week in “Better Know a Scientist”, I’m interviewing entomologist Amelia Jordan. Amelia graduated with her MSc in Entomology from Washington State University in 2014 where she studied the presence of native bees in alfalfa seed fields. If you missed my last interview with an entomologist, check it out here. I learned so much from that interview and there are so many different aspects to insects, that I decided that a follow-up interview with another entomologist was warranted. I had questions on a broad range of topics and her answers stand on their own, so you can skip around and read about topics that you’re interested in learning about.
The USDA announced recently that Roundup Ready® alfalfa is cleared to be planted anywhere in the US without restrictions. In contrast to previous GE crop approvals, this time the USDA listed three potential options, the first being no approval at all, the second, unrestricted approval, and the third, approval with certain geographic restrictions. (For some discussion on this, see Anastasia’s post on alfalfa and mine on our joint comment to the USDA.) So already, the political process with GE crop deregulation is getting more interesting, but one fascinating aspect of all this is the new and surprising level of infighting amongst opponents of genetic engineering, particularly in the Organic agriculture sector. All it took was proposing something between a blanket Yes or No – something that recognizes that all farmers have a reasonable right to grow crops as they see fit – and that the goal should be coexistence amongst
Yesterday, the comment period for the Genetically Engineered Glyphosate-Tolerant Alfalfa Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) ended. Next to sugar beets, perhaps no other GE crop has received the kind of regulatory attention that this one has. Consequently, Anastasia and I decided to submit a joint comment to the USDA with Biofortified.org’s name attached to it. There has been much discussion as of late on this blog, spearheaded by Anastasia, about the issue of coexistence. While hyperbole about “kissing your organics goodbye” and meaningless distinctions such as “the first GE perennial field crop” (first perennial is papaya) are abound, some interesting things are actually going on. In December, the USDA held a meeting with several stakeholders, and the transcript of this meeting can be found here. There are several ideas being floated around, and some familiar names. I’ll have more to say on this meeting later. But one statement struck a chord,
Alfalfa by TwoWings via Wikimedia Commons. Alfalfa is an awesome plant that is quite unique among field crops. It’s a legume, which means it can fix nitrogen (meaning less nitrogen fertilizer needs to be added) as well as being one of very few perennial crops, which means it can be left in the field to grow year after year and keep being harvested. It’s roots can grow quite deep so it can be very drought tolerant. It produces a high quality forage for animals, and is especially great for dairy cows. One problem with alfalfa is that, as it is left to grow for multiple years, weeds can accumulate and the alfalfa stand will need to be plowed under. Weeds can be controlled to some degree with harvesting at just the right time (before the weeds make seeds) but at some point that isn’t enough. Enter Roundup Ready alfalfa which can be
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has some pretty complicated problems facing his Department. On the one hand, he has biotech companies developing products that have been determined by science to be safe and many farmers who wish to use them. On the other hand, he has a small but growing group of organic farmers who claim that biotech crops will “destroy their ability to farm organically”. He’s looking for coexistence between both types of farmers. At this time, coexistence between organic and conventional farms is worked out individually by neighbors. On a national scale, organic groups have initiated multiple lawsuits against the USDA in what some say are blatant attempts to prevent biotech crops from being grown at all (sugar beets, alfalfa). In an effort to solve the problem, a creative potential solution has been devised – partial deregulation of biotech alfalfa. This would “include isolation standards from other crops, set geographic