GENET archive


APPROVAL & CONTAMINATION: Monsanto finally appeals RR alfalfa seed sales ban

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Western Farm Press, USA

AUTHOR: Harry Cline


DATE:   15.08.2007

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Monsanto has appealed a Northern California U.S. District Court’s ruling banning the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

The appeal was filed Monday seeking to ”correct the legal standards” applied as the basis for the injunction, resulting in unnecessary restrictions on growers, seed dealers, Forage Genetics Inc. (FGI), and Monsanto while the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is completed.

The appeal also asserts that irreparable financial harm will unnecessarily fall on the same segments of the industry as a result of the injunction, despite previous acknowledgement that Roundup Ready alfalfa poses no harm to humans and livestock.

The appeal will be heard in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. No hearing date has been set.

The injunction to ban the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa until USDA completes an EIS on the impact of herbicide-resistant alfalfa planting seed was issued on May 3 by the federal district court, following a lawsuit brought by the Center for Food Safety and two alfalfa seed producers and others against the USDA.

Along with the ruling banning seed sales, the judge also ordered the exact field locations of an estimated 220,000 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa be identified and that the production, harvesting and marketing restrictions be imposed on the forage crop deemed safe for humans and livestock. An estimated 80,000 acres of RR alfalfa is in California where the onerous set of rules issued in late summer by USDA/APHIS to seemingly comply with the judge’s orders, created almost as much uproar and consternation among growers as the initial ruling banning the sale of the seed.

Seed companies, growers and University of California specialists and others are attempting to modify the rules that include such regulations as labeling every bale of Roundup Ready alfalfa sold into a commercial hay market.

In California alone, that could mean individually tagging from 12 to 20 million 150-pound hay bales harvested each season.

The government regulations also require:

- Producers to clean all swathers, balers, pick-up wagons/harrow beds and leave the sweepings in the RR field.

- Truckers clean their equipment after transporting RR alfalfa.

- RR hay and conventional hay be segregated when stacked.

- Buyers be notified they are purchasing RR hay.

- Individually tagging all RR alfalfa bales.

Alfalfa industry leaders are attempting to modify the rules.

There have been some concerns that Monsanto and Forage Genetics would not appeal the ruling and wait until the USDA completed an EIS to put the highly sought after seed back on the market.

The announcement to appeal before the EIS is completed allayed those concerns.

The federal district court judge’s ruling to ban the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa in early spring sent shock waves through the industry, since the newly introduced technology was overwhelmingly initially accepted. Many predicted the vast majority of at least California’s alfalfa acreage, if not the nation’s, would quickly become herbicide resistant varieties.

The ruling was described as the ”tail waging the dog” since of the more than 22 million acres of alfalfa grown in the U.S., only about 200,000 acres are certified organic. This would put the majority of Roundup Ready alfalfa hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from any organic alfalfa, which plaintiffs said would be ”contaminated” by the transgenic seed.

Monsanto is appealing the decision that could cost conventional alfalfa growers $250 million.

Monsanto joined the lawsuit after the preliminary injunction was issued to defend grower choice to use the technology. However, the judge made his injunction permanent.

Despite previous acceptance that Roundup Ready alfalfa posed no harm to humans and livestock, the court upheld its decision that the USDA did not adequately follow procedural requirements as detailed by the National Environmental Policy Act before deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa. Under the Plant Protection Act, the court maintained that prior to deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa the USDA would have to prepare an EIS in place of the environmental assessment that was completed.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: The Prairie Star, USA

AUTHOR: Opinion, by Kristina Hubbard


DATE:   04.08.2007

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To the editor:

On June 22, Mike Waters of Growers for Biotechnology wrote about a March 2007 court decision that banned future sales and planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa, a genetically engineered variety initially commercialized in June 2005.

In his piece, Waters deplores the judge’s ruling, and credits the ”organic activists and environmental extremist groups” and their ”all organic, no biotech crop agenda” for the ruling. Yet, a landmark lawsuit such as this (a court has never before vacated a USDA decision to approve a genetically engineered crop) deserves a deeper examination. The nature of alfalfa and its significance to the organic industry points toward a reality different than the one Waters paints.

The organic food industry was worth $17 billion in 2006, and continues to grow by about 20 percent each year (compared to the conventional food industry’s rate of 2 to 3 percent). Organic alfalfa is an essential component to this growth. The total number of certified organic livestock, especially beef cattle and dairy cows, increased by a startling 572 percent between 1997 and 2003. And several events show this demand is growing. For example, the U.S. has experienced a chronic shortage of organic milk, and California now imports some of its organic feed to meet the state’s demands. Implicit in the demand for more organic meat and dairy products is the need for more organic feed, especially alfalfa.

Because alfalfa is an open-pollinated crop, markets for alfalfa seed and hay that shun, or reject outright, genetically engineered material in seeds and feed (such as certified organic and some export markets) risk acquiring the Roundup Ready trait through gene flow. The USDA National Organic Program does not allow the use of agricultural biotechnology in certified organic farming systems, so cross-pollination of Roundup Ready alfalfa with organic crops could increase production costs, reduce profits, or even eliminate markets for organic alfalfa producers.

Unfortunately, no law or regulation requires farmers who plant Roundup Ready alfalfa for hay to implement practices that prevent cross-pollination with neighbors’ crops. And farmers can’t control the weather; meaning, they can’t always avoid hay stands going to bloom, from producing viable pollen. Instead, the burden of protecting alfalfa plants and sensitive markets from transgenic traits, such as planting buffer areas, is completely transferred to the producer of non-Roundup Ready alfalfa.

As for Roundup Ready alfalfa seed production, segregation distances proved ineffective even before the judge made his decision. In December 2006, just over a year after Roundup Ready alfalfa was commercialized, the Idaho Alfalfa and Seed Clover Association reported that Roundup Ready alfalfa traits were found in conventional alfalfa seed in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, including foundation seed, which contained enough transgenic material to deem it useless as seed stock.

This foundation seed was two miles from the nearest Roundup Ready field. At the time of these tests, segregation distances were set at 900 feet. Also in 2006, The Colorado State University Extension tested feral alfalfa plants at 23 sites in Mesa County along roadsides, abandoned fields, and edges of active hay fields within two miles of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed fields. Transgenic gene flow was found at 83 percent of the collection sites. Complete segregation of Roundup Ready and conventional (including organic) alfalfa varieties is simply unlikely.

Although only a small percentage of U.S. alfalfa is exported, Pacific Northwest growers export a much higher percentage of their crop, and stand to lose a $480 million market. Roundup Ready alfalfa’s introduction depicts a notable difference between an export country’s government approval of a genetically engineered crop and export customers’ approval. Even after Japan’s government approved Roundup Ready alfalfa for import, Jap-anese customers continued to show resistance to the transgenic variety. Some U.S. export companies relayed that Japanese customers (Japan accounts for 75 percent of the alfalfa export market) were de-manding documents that verified alfalfa shipments as free of transgenic traits.

Both the organic and biotechnology industries are rapidly growing, quite literally, side-by-side. Although biotechnology firms claim there is a successful ”coexistence” between conventional and genetically engineered crops, farmers have been dealing with unwanted transgenic material (be it through gene flow or human error) in their crops for a decade, with little recourse for damages.

A recent example is last year’s finding of an unapproved genetically engineered long-grain rice variety in the food supply. Though only approved for field trials and not human consumption, the rice strain found its way into the commercial rice supply in all five of the Southern states where long-grain rice is grown. Shock-ingly, this discovery was made five years after the manufacturer stopped growing the variety in experimental plots. A lawsuit was filed against the manufacturer on behalf of 400 rice producers, and export losses were estimated at $150 million.

The lawsuit that found USDA’s approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa illegal leveled the playing field, and said that a crop variety can’t be grown at the expense of significantly impacting another.

In other words, if transgenic gene flow affects organic farmers’ ability to grow organic alfalfa free of transgenic traits, then the impacts must seriously be considered.

Furthermore, the case was filed shortly after USDA’s own Inspector General released a report citing numerous problems with USDA’s oversight of genetically engineered crops, stating that current regulations and policies do not go far enough to ensure the safe introduction of genetically engineered crops. Performing a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as was ordered by the court, seems the least the agency can do.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Wisconsin Ag Connection, USA



DATE:   13.08.2007

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Conventional and organic farmers who raise alfalfa can determine if there are nearby fields of genetically engineered alfalfa by contacting a toll-free hotline offered by the United States Department of Agriculture. According to Laura Paine, Organic Agriculture Specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, alfalfa genetically engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup has been available in the United States since 2005. As a result of a recent lawsuit, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has been directed to restrict and regulate the use of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

”As a perennial crop that is insect pollinated, GE alfalfa presents much greater risk of contamination of conventional plantings than other crops” Paine says. ”This ruling puts in place some protections for organic farmers and others who wish to avoid growing genetically engineered crops.”

The National Organic Program prohibits use of GE plants and animals and the contamination of organic crops by GE crops is an issue of concern within the organic community. The new ruling recognizes the long-term challenges that may be created for non-GE alfalfa growers and seed producers if this technology were widely adopted.

The court order describes how growers and distributors must store GE alfalfa, label containers, and clean equipment. The order applies to all Roundup Ready alfalfa planted between June 14, 2005 and March 30, 2007.

APHIS has also made available a toll-free telephone number for use by conventional and organic alfalfa farmers and prospective alfalfa farmers to inquire about the proximity of their farms or fields to Roundup Ready alfalfa. This action is being taken in compliance with a judgment and order by the U.S. District Court in California. That number is 866-724-6408.

                                  PART 4

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SOURCE: California Farmer, USA



DATE:   14.08.2007

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Monsanto filed a notice of appeal in U.S. District Court seeking to overturn an injunction on Roundup Ready alfalfa. The court handed down the permanent injunction on May 3 after the Center for Food Safety led a lawsuit against USDA. Concerns had been raised that the genetically modified alfalfa could spread into fields of conventional alfalfa on other farms. The injunction prohibits the sale and planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa while USDA is working on an court-ordered environmental impact report. The appeal claims that the injunction has resulted in unnecessary restrictions - and, potentially, irreparable financial harm - on growers, seed dealers, Forage Genetics, Inc. and Monsanto. The appeal will be heard in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.



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