Judge rejects Roundup Ready alfalfa
Court says USDA should have done
Environmental Impact Statement
U.S. District Court Judge ruled Feb. 13 that
the U.S. Department of Agriculture erred when
it approved Roundup Ready alfalfa without
conducting a full Environmental Impact
Roundup Ready alfalfa is genetically
engineered to be tolerant of gyphosphate, the
active ingredient in Roundup herbicide. It was
developed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics.
U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer of
the Northern District of California said that,
while the USDA's Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service conducted an Environmental
Assessment, the agency should have gone
further and conducted a full EIS before
granting Monsanto's deregulation petition.
Approving the petition allowed Roundup Ready
alfalfa seed to be sold without direct USDA
The University of California
research center in the Klamath Basin
tests varieties of Roundup Ready
alfalfa. - Capital Press file photo
www.cand.uscourts.gov- The case is
Geertson Seed Farms v. Mike Johanns,
case number CV c-06-01075.
Breyer said a lawsuit filed last year by farmers
and environmental groups raised substantial
questions about the impact of the genetically
engineered crop. He said APHIS failed to address
those questions thoroughly before approving its
Questions include whether allowing the genetically
engineered crop without geographic restrictions
could lead to transmission of the engineered gene
to organic and conventionally grown alfalfa, and
the possible extent of that transmission by bees
and other insects. Farmers were left with the
burden to determine their own buffers to protect
their crops, the judge said. Questions also were
raised about the possibility of weeds acquiring
the engineered gene.
APHIS' next step is unclear, said Andrea McNally,
agency spokeswoman in Washington, D.C. The ruling
is still being evaluated, and the agency hasn't
yet decided if it will appeal, she said.
Forage Genetics referred inquiries to Monsanto.
Andrew Burchett, a Monsanto spokesman in St.
Louis, said the company "respectfully disagrees"
with the ruling and that Monsanto stands behind
the health and environmental safety of Roundup
Ready Alfalfa and all of its products.
Burchett said the ruling was on the USDA process
only and that it was unclear if the court reviewed
the extensive documentation the company provided
to regulators about the technology and its safety
Monsanto continues to work with seed companies and
farmers who want to use the Roundup Ready alfalfa,
Burchett said. He said the technology has been
shown to increase hay quality and yields. He
declined to speculate on whether the ruling could
block sales of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed for the
Burchett said there are roughly 150,000 acres of
Roundup Ready alfalfa planted nationwide.
Reactions to the court ruling from farmers were
mixed. Chep Gauntt, a Walla Walla County, Wash.,
alfalfa grower and a past president of the
Washington State Hay Growers Association, hailed
the ruling and said it would give the industry
some breathing room to sort out concerns. Gauntt,
who exports a significant amount of his hay crop
to Japan, said that while the Japanese government
has approved Roundup Ready alfalfa imports,
Japanese buyers have been reluctant to accept it.
Gauntt said he has had to go to extreme measures,
including requiring seed tests, to protect his
Philip Bowles, a Los Banos, Calif,, alfalfa grower
and chairman of the California Alfalfa and Forage
Association, said the ruling raises uncertainties.
"It's unclear whether or not anyone with a field
of Roundup Ready alfalfa is supposed to destroy
their stands," Bowles said. "If so, who is
supposed to bear the cost? We growers did what we
believed to be legal and planted the seed in
accordance with all the proper regulations."
Bowles indicated genetically engineered alfalfa
has advantages for growers and for the
Peggy Steward is based in Ellensburg, Wash. Her
e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.