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REGULATION / PLANTS: U.S. Court halt on GMO alfalfa shows USDAfailure

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TITLE:  Court halt on GMO alfalfa shows USDA failure: critics
SOURCE: Reuters
AUTHOR: Carey Gillam
DATE:   13.03.2007

Court halt on GMO alfalfa shows USDA failure: critics

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A court decision overturning U.S.
government approval for a biotech alfalfa underscores complaints made
for years that the USDA is failing to adequately oversee genetically
altered crops, biotech crop critics said on Tuesday.

And the critics believe it sets a precedent that should prompt more
stringent oversight of these controversial crops.

"It is a big deal for the court to do that. It is the first time it has
happened in the U.S.," said Margaret Mellon, director of the Union of
Concerned Scientists Food and Environment Program, which is not a party
to the case.

There have been concerns for years about the USDA's lack of proper
oversight. Indeed, other recent court rulings have leveled criticism
against U.S. government oversight of biotech crops.

"There are some serious problems there," said Mellon. "They need to be fixed."

USDA officials would not comment Tuesday, a day after U.S. District
Court Judge Charles Breyer of the Northern District of California issued
an order on Monday that vacated USDA approval of Monsanto Co.'s "Roundup
Ready" alfalfa.

The crop, genetically altered to withstand treatments of Monsanto's
Roundup herbicide, was approved in 2005. But Judge Breyer immediately
halted any more seed sales and ordered that any planting must cease
after March 30 after he determined that the USDA violated the law in
allowing unrestricted commercial planting of the crop.

The judge said the USDA should have prepared an environmental impact
statement before deregulating the Roundup Ready alfalfa. Such a
statement is designed to explore negative consequences that might result
from a release.

In the case of biotech alfalfa, a perennial livestock feed crop, several
farm, environmental and consumer activists groups said there were many
potential problems, including contamination of organic and conventional
alfalfa supplies with the biotech version.

Other crops, including most notably corn and rice, have already been
contaminated with biotech varieties, forcing in some situations costly
recalls and lost export sales.

"I challenged them over and over to give us any scientific evidence that
they can control the gene flow from these crops. So far they haven't
been able to do that," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of The
Center for Food Safety, which led the lawsuit against the U.S.
Agriculture Department.

"This technology was put out into the environment without any idea of
how to control it," he said. "Now the agency for the first time will
have to come up with some sort of answers as to how you can control this
and be accountable for it."

Like USDA, Monsanto officials also declined to discuss the potential
ramifications of the ruling on Tuesday, but company spokeswoman Lori
Fisher said Monsanto was informing Roundup Ready alfalfa seed dealers of
the court order and outlining actions they must take.

"Basically, this communication informs dealers to stop sales of Roundup
Ready alfalfa under court order, to secure Roundup Ready alfalfa seed
not sold in inventory and to expect further instructions as the
situation develops," Fisher said.

Over the last decade, the USDA has approved applications for more than
70 genetically modified organism (GMO) crop lines, many of which have
been embraced by farmers because they are easier and/or more profitable
to grow.

Sharon Bomer, a vice president at the Biotechnology Industry
Organization (BIO), said her group, which represents the interests of
biotech companies, including Monsanto, said that the safety of alfalfa
and other commercialized biotech crops was not an issue. And she said
the court ruling on alfalfa appeared limited.

"We think this deals with only one situation," she said.

Still, the oversight, primarily handled by the USDA's Animal Health and
Plant Health Inspection Service, has been repeatedly criticized as
lacking. An Office of Inspector General audit of APHIS' and its
biotechnology regulatory services unit found numerous holes in oversight
efforts in a report issued in December 2005.

The government is currently reviewing and rewriting the regulations for
field testing and for deregulation of genetically modified crops with a
final report on the overhaul due out in the next few months.

In the meantime, Kimbrell said he was dismayed that the USDA appears to
remain more focused on supporting Monsanto's commercial needs than on
protecting the interests of others in agriculture.

"I have never seen a government agency so openly and unashamedly defend
the interests of a corporation and not represent the interests of
farmers," he said.

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                                  PART II
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TITLE:  UW prof: Ban on genetic alfalfa could hurt
SOURCE: Jackson Hole Star Tribune, USA
DATE:   14.03.2007

UW prof: Ban on genetic alfalfa could hurt

A decision temporarily halting the planting of genetically engineered
alfalfa could affect Wyoming production, according to an alfalfa breeder
and University of Wyoming professor. Robin Groose, who teaches plant
breeding and genetics, said the preliminary injunction issued Tuesday by
a federal judge in response to a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of
Agriculture could cut into production of alfalfa in Wyoming. Farmers who
already have purchased the herbicide-resistant alfalfa seed must plant
it by March 30. No new sales of the seed will be allowed, according to
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer's preliminary injunction order. San
Francisco-based Breyer ruled last month that federal authorities had
failed to fully consider the public health, economic and environmental
consequences before allowing the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa. The
Center for Food Safety had sued on behalf of farmers who complained the
genetically engineered seed could contaminate organic and conventional
alfalfa. The seed, produced by Monsanto Co. and Forage Genetics
International, is resistant to herbicides including the Monsanto-
produced Roundup weed killer.

Wyoming, according to statistics provided by the USDA, annually produces
1.5 million tons of high-quality alfalfa for forage, grown on
approximately 600,000 acres. "It's unclear what the effect (of this
ruling) would be at this point, but it is our most important crop,"
Groose said, adding that the genetically produced seed would help in
weed control. "From an economic standpoint, (Roundup Ready) seed would
benefit the growers who would want to use it." The decision was hailed
by some opposed to the genetically produced seed. "Roundup Ready alfalfa
poses threats to farmers, to our export markets and to the environment,"
said Will Rostov, spokesman for the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit
environmental advocacy group. A call to the Idaho-based Forage Genetics
seeking comment was referred to Monsanto, where a spokesman said he's
disappointed by the temporary injunction but hopeful it wouldn't stand.
"We are hopeful that a reasoned approach in this matter will address
questions about the regulatory approval process for Roundup Ready
alfalfa," said Jerry Steiner, a Monsanto executive vice president. Oral
arguments on the Center for Food Safety's request for a permanent
injunction were scheduled for April 27. Monsanto spokesman Andrew
Burchett said the company would not be hurt financially by the
prohibition on the sale of the seed because "this is not one of our
major crops." About 200,000 acres of genetically modified alfalfa
already has been planted across the United States. The judge, in
Monday's order, did not require those crops to be removed. Roundup Ready
Alfalfa can be grown only for hay and forage. Seed production is
prohibited. Alfalfa, which is used for livestock feed and can be planted
in spring or fall, is a major crop grown on about 21 million acres in
the country. California is the nation's largest alfalfa producer,
growing the crop on about 1 million acres, primarily in the San Joaquin

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