GENET archive


9-Misc: Farmers and others sue USDA over Monsanto GMO alfalfa

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Lawsuit Calls Genetically Engineered Alfalfa a Risk to Farmers
        and the Environment
SOURCE: Center for Food Safety, USA
DATE:   16 Feb 2006

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Lawsuit Calls Genetically Engineered Alfalfa a Risk to Farmers and the
Groups Challenge USDA Approval of First Perennial Gene Altered Crop

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. - Shortly after a government report cited problems
with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) oversight of genetically
engineered (GE) crops, a coalition of farmers, farm groups, consumers,
and environmentalists filed a lawsuit today calling the department's
approval of GE alfalfa a threat to farmers' livelihoods and a risk to the

The suit contends that the USDA improperly allowed the commercial release
of GE alfalfa, the first commercial release of a GE perennial crop, and
failed to analyze the public health, environmental, and economic
consequences of the release.

The suit also asserts that the GE alfalfa will likely contaminate natural
alfalfa and ultimately prevent farmers from producing natural, non-GE
alfalfa for markets that demand it.

"I'm outraged that a genetically engineered alfalfa will contaminate the
South Dakota alfalfa seed that has been developed over generations," said
Pat Trask, an alfalfa seed farmer from South Dakota and plaintiff in the
suit. "Bees pollinate alfalfa, and we know that bees can forage for
miles. The introduction of genetically engineered alfalfa practically
guarantees that there will be no genetically engineered-free seed in a
matter of a few years."

The suit cites the concerns of farmers with export markets. Buyers in
Japan and South Korea, America's major alfalfa export customers, have
strongly stated that concerns about genetic contamination will lead them
to avoid U.S. alfalfa if a GE variety is grown in this country. U.S.
alfalfa exports total nearly $480 million per year, with about 75% of
exports going to Japan.

In addition to genetic contamination, the lawsuit says GE alfalfa poses
unique risks to the environment. The GE alfalfa is designed to tolerate
high doses of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup
herbicide. But 83% of U.S. alfalfa is grown without any herbicides, and
many experts note that GE alfalfa could lead to massive increases in
herbicide use on alfalfa and more chemical pollution in the environment.
A study of GE soy has already shown that farmers growing the GE variety
use two to five times more herbicides than farmers who plant natural soy

"Gene altered alfalfa poses special environmental, agricultural, and
economic risks for many different locations in the U.S.," said Will
Rostov, Senior Attorney for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), which filed
the suit. "Given the potential significant and large-scale environmental
effects, USDA must retract its approval and conduct a thorough
Environmental Impact Statement."

Joining CFS in the suit are Sierra Club, Western Organization of Resource
Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia
Institute, Dakota Resource Council, and two individual alfalfa seed producers.

Recent scientific findings link the advent of GE crops to weeds
developing resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in the
herbicide Roundup. In turn, this weed resistance has led to increased
herbicide use and forced farmers to turn to more toxic herbicides.
According to the suit, USDA failed to address the potential impacts of
the increased use of Roundup on alfalfa and failed to address issues
relating to cross-pollination of wild relatives of alfalfa.

In a report critical of USDA's oversight of GE crops released in late
December, the USDA's Inspector General said, "Current [USDA] regulations,
policies and procedures do not go far enough to ensure the safe
introduction of agricultural biotechnology."

The suit says organic farmers could lose their livelihoods when organic
alfalfa is contaminated by the GE variety. In its assessment of GE
alfalfa, USDA acknowledges that bees can pollinate alfalfa two miles
away, but states that organic growers should manage the problem with
buffer zones. The USDA failed to analyze the significant financial loss
that its decision will cause seed and organic dairy and beef farmers.

"USDA is forcing organic farmers to subsidize the biotech industry's
drive for profits," said Jim Munsch, an organically certified beef
producer from Southwest Wisconsin. "By USDA's determination all alfalfa
seed available on the market will become contaminated with GE alfalfa.
Without alfalfa our costs go up."

Alfalfa is grown on over 21 million acres, and is worth $8 billion per
year (not including the value of final products, such as dairy products),
making it the country's third most valuable and fourth most widely grown
crop. Alfalfa is primarily used in feed for dairy cows and beef cattle,
and it also greatly contributes to pork, lamb, sheep, and honey
production. Consumers also eat alfalfa as sprouts in salads and other foods.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in the Northern District of California
calls on the court to rescind the deregulated status of Monsanto's
Roundup Ready alfalfa, calling USDA's decision to approve the crop
arbitrary and capricious. The lawsuit also challenges USDA for its
inadequate environmental review of the crop and calls for a full
environmental impact statement.

View the Complaint
View the Executive Summary of the Complaint
View WORC's Factsheet on GE Alfalfa

Will Rostov, CFS, (415) 826-2770
Charles Margulis, CFS, (510) 697-0615
Kevin Dowling, WORC, 406-252-9672
(Note: Individual farmers and representatives of organizations who are
plaintiffs in the lawsuit are available for comment).

                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Farmers, Others Sue USDA Over Monsanto GMO Alfalfa
SOURCE: Reuters, by by Carey Gillam
DATE:   17 Feb 2006

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Farmers, Others Sue USDA Over Monsanto GMO Alfalfa

KANSAS CITY - A coalition of farmers, consumers and environmental
activists on Thursday sued the US government over its approval of a
biotech alfalfa that critics say will spell havoc for farmers and the

Opening another front in the battle over genetically modified crops, the
lawsuit contends that the US Department of Agriculture improperly is
allowing Monsanto Co to sell an herbicide-resistant alfalfa seed while
failing to analyse the public health, environmental, and economic
consequences of that action.

"The USDA failed to do a full environmental review when they deregulated
this genetically engineered alfalfa," said Will Rastov, an attorney for
Center for Food Safety, one of the plaintiffs. "They're going to wreak
untold dangers into the environment."

The lawsuit asks the federal court in San Francisco to rescind the USDA's
decision until a full environmental review has been completed.

The suit asserts that the genetically modified alfalfa will probably
contaminate conventionally grown alfalfa at a fast pace, ultimately
forcing farmers to pay for Monsanto's patented gene technology whether
they want the technology or not.

The group says biotech alfalfa would also hurt production of organic
dairy and beef products as alfalfa is a key cattle feed. And the suit
claims farmers could lose export business, valued at an estimated $480
million per year, because buyers in Japan and South Korea, major
importers of US alfalfa, have indicated they would avoid buying US
alfalfa once the genetically engineered variety is released.

Plaintiffs also said Monsanto is marketing the herbicide-tolerant crop in
a way that encourages far greater applications of chemicals than alfalfa
typically requires.

Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States, behind
corn, soybeans, and wheat.

South Dakota alfalfa farmer Pat Trask, one of the plaintiffs, said
Monsanto's biotech alfalfa would ruin his conventional alfalfa seed
business because it was certain his 9,000 acres would be contaminated by
the biotech genes.

Alfalfa is very easily cross-pollinated by bees and by wind. The plant is
also perennial, meaning GMO plants could live on for years.

"The way this spreads so far and wide, it will eliminate the conventional
alfalfa industry," said Trask. "Monsanto will own the entire alfalfa

Monsanto has a policy of filing lawsuits or taking other legal actions
against farmers who harvest crops that show the presence of the company's
patented gene technology. It has sued farmers even when they have tried
to keep their own fields free from contamination by biotech plants on
neighbouring farms.

"It's the desire of Monsanto to pursue global control and total control
over the American alfalfa seed industry," said Trask.

Monsanto spokeswoman Mica DeLong said the company had no comment on the
issue and referred inquires to USDA. Monsanto received regulatory
clearance to begin selling the biotech alfalfa last summer.

The suit names Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Animal Plant Health
Inspection Service Administrator Ron Dehaven and Environmental Protection
Agency administrator Steve Johnson as defendants.

APHIS spokeswoman Karen Eggert said the agency had no immediate comment.
EPA also declined to comment and a spokeswoman for USDA could not be
reached immediately.

In addition to the Center for Food Safety and the Trask family, the
plaintiffs include the National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club,
Dakota Resources Council, and other farm, environmental and consumer groups.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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