GENET archive


RISK ASSESSMENT: U.S. judge mulls making GE alfalfa ban permanent

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Judge mulls making alfalfa ban permanent
SOURCE: Reuters
AUTHOR: Michael Kahn
DATE:   27.04.2007

Judge mulls making alfalfa ban permanent

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. judge questioned whether he should lift
a ban on the sale and planting of Monsanto Co.'s genetically modified
alfalfa without a government study of the crop's potential impact.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer on Friday told lawyers
defending the use of Monsanto's alfalfa that it was up to the government
-- not him -- to determine whether use of the seed posed a potential
threat to the environment.

He also said that lifting his preliminary injunction before such a study
was complete could lead to greater harm to the environment. He
challenged defense lawyers to show him case law establishing a precedent
for him to do so.

Breyer, who has already ruled that the government acted illegally in
approving the biotech alfalfa, issued the preliminary injunction in
March and set April 27 as a date to consider whether to make it
permanent. He did not indicate when he might make a final decision on the ban.

"It is not the court's function to do an environmental impact study,"
Breyer said during the hearing. "That hasn't been done, and I don't know
if the court ought to do it. The government ought to do it, and that is
what I held.".

In March, Breyer issued a preliminary injunction banning the sale and
planting of the alfalfa, which has been genetically altered to tolerate
treatments of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.


Many farmers, environmentalists and consumer activists fear the biotech
alfalfa will contaminate organic and conventional varieties, create
"superweeds" that don't respond to herbicide and damage export business.
Alfalfa is a perennial livestock fodder crop and among the most widely
grown crops in the United States.

The judge's order in March said the USDA had not done a thorough job in
evaluating the potential impact of the crop, and he vacated the USDA's
2005 approval of Monsanto's alfalfa.

His decision marked the first time a federal court overturned USDA
approval of a biotech seed and halted planting, according to The Center
for Food Safety, among the groups seeking the injunction.

Lawyers defending use of the crop, however, urged the judge to lift his
injunction, saying at the hearing on Friday that the important factor
was that any likelihood of injury was low and that farmers relying on
the seed would be harmed.

"There are some significant environmental and beneficial effects in
Roundup Ready Alfalfa," Janice Schneider, a lawyer representing
Monsanto, told the judge.

Monsanto has presented testimony from scientists who say there is an
"extremely low" risk that Roundup Ready Alfalfa would pollinate
conventional crops if "appropriate stewardship measures" were taken.

Monsanto has also argued that a continued ban on Roundup Ready seed
would force farmers "to plant lower-yield alfalfa breeds that pose more
complicated and costly weed control problems and require the use of more
toxic or environmentally problematic herbicides."

The Roundup Ready alfalfa genetic trait was developed by Monsanto and
licensed to Forage Genetics International, which produces and markets
the seeds.

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                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  UW researchers say ban on genetic alfalfa could hurt Wyoming
SOURCE: University of Wyoming, USA
AUTHOR: Press Release
DATE:   01.05.2007

UW researchers say ban on genetic alfalfa could hurt Wyoming production

May 1, 2007 -- A court decision temporarily halting the planting of
genetically-engineered alfalfa could hurt Wyoming production, according
to researchers in the University of Wyoming's College of Agriculture. 

"We're a top state in producing the Roundup Ready seed for companies,
and this could impact our alfalfa seed growers," says Stephen D. Miller,
associate dean in the College of Agriculture and director of the Wyoming
Agricultural Experiment Station. Miller and colleagues Andrew Kniss,
Craig Alford and Robert Wilson have performed research on Roundup Ready

Robin Groose, an associate professor in UW's Department of Plant
Sciences, agrees with Miller the decision could affect Wyoming production. 

"It's unclear what the effect of the judge's ruling would be at this
point, but alfalfa is our most important crop," Groose says. 

Wyoming, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA),
produced 1.5 million tons of alfalfa for forage in 2005, grown on
approximately 600,000 acres. It also produced 3.47 million pounds of
alfalfa seed from 5,600 acres. The value of the 2005 alfalfa crop was
nearly $113 million. 

Comments by Miller and Groose are in response to a preliminary
injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San
Francisco, whose ruling stemmed from a lawsuit against the USDA. 

Farmers who already had purchased the herbicide-resistant alfalfa seed
must have planted it by March 30. No new sales of Roundup Ready alfalfa
seed will be allowed until the case is resolved, according to the
judge's preliminary injunction. 

The seed, produced by St. Louis, Mo.-based Monsanto Co. and Forage
Genetics International of Nampa, Idaho, is resistant to herbicides
including Roundup weed killer manufactured by Monsanto. 
Groose says 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," he says. 

The judge ruled the federal government failed to fully consider the
public health, economic and environmental consequences before allowing
the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa. 

The Center for Food Safety, a non-profit public interest and
environmental advocacy group with offices in Washington, D.C., and San
Francisco, sued on behalf of farmers who complained the seed could
contaminate organic and conventional alfalfa. 

Miller says it could take months for a decision, and that could hurt
Wyoming's seed producers this year. 

Miller, Kniss, a research scientist in the Department of Plant Sciences,
Alford, a former associate research scientist in the department, and
Wilson, an adjunct professor with the department and an extension weed
specialist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Scottsbluff, Neb.,
published a bulletin on Roundup Ready alfalfa available at

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