In 2011, genetically modified alfalfa seeds patented by the bio tech giant Monsanto were introduced in the United States. The seeds, which are marketed as “Round-up Ready Alfalfa” has been genetically engineered to withstand a higher than normal dose of Round-up, a weed and insect killing toxin sold by Monsanto. The active ingredient in Round-up is glyphosate, a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant.
Why solve a problem that doesn’t exist?
Prior to 2011, 93% of the commerically grown alfalfa in the United States were not sprayed, as it was perfectly possible to get large yields without spraying.
So, creating a seed that is extra resilient to spraying with toxins is solving a problem that didn’t exist.
Since 2011, there has been a risk of cross-contamination, where the modified genetics of the Monsanto alfalfa gets into the genetics of the non-modified seeds. Such contamination is bad for several reasons, including how it can make the alfalfa to weak to grow well without the aid of Round-up sprayings.
For Monsanta, it would of course be great news if the alfalfa growers in the U.S. suddenly developed an urgent need to buy Round-up.
”Once you insert new genes into a perennial insect-pollinated plant like alfalfa, there’s no way to prevent cross-fertilization and contamination, and it cannot be eliminated once it’s distributed throughout an area,” says toxicology and plant pathology expert Dr. Don Huber.
What is glyphosate?
- Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant.
- It acts by inhibiting the plant enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase. This enzyme is involved in the plant’s production of the amino acids tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine.
- It is chiefly used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses. It is only effective on growing plants and can not be used as a pre-emergence herbicide.
- Glyphosate is mostly absorbed through the foliage (and only minimally through the roots).
- It’s potential as an herbicide was discovered by Monsanto chemist John. E. Franz in 1970. In 1974, Monsanto began selling it under the brand name Roundup. Monsanto’s last commercially relevant U.S. patent expired in 2000.
- Monsanto has developed various Roundup Ready crops, such as genetically engineered soybeans and alfalfa. Such crops makes it easy for farmers to kill weeds without killing the crop.
- In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Reseach on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic in humans (category 2A), based on epidemiological studies, animal studies, and in vitro studies. That same year, the European Food Safety Auhtority stated that the substance is unlikely to be genotoxic or to pose a carcinogenic threat to humans.
- The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) classifies glyphosate as toxic to aquatic life.
What does this mean for horses?
With or without Roundup, alfalfa is not recommended as a staple food for horses. It is very dense in nutrients and rich in protein, and this can create digestive issues in horses if consumed in excess. If it irritates the ileocecal valve, colic may follow.
Grasses that are lowering in sugar are recommended for horses, such as Bermuda, Orchard, Teff , and Timothy.
If you do want to feed your horse alfalfa, the safest choice is to get produce that has not been sprayed with Roundup, since Roundup residue can kill beneficial bacteria that the horse needs in its digestive system.