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COEXISTENCE & CONTAMINATION: U.S. experts: Contamination from GM alfalfa certain



                                  PART 1


------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   EXPERTS: CONTAMINATION FROM GM ALFALFA CERTAIN

SOURCE:  The Associated Press, USA

AUTHOR:  

URL:     http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jM3y4h6-OJoZysfZ2k056PfiNRHQ?docId=e1796a22a6784755aab777145b965992

DATE:    07.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Contamination of organic and traditional crops by recently deregulated, genetically modified alfalfa is inevitable, agriculture experts said, despite Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack?s recent assurances the federal government would take steps to prevent such a problem. [...] Fred Kirschenmann, who manages a farm near Jamestown, N.D., but works at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, said he gave up growing organic canola in the late 1990s after Roundup-resistant canola seeds were introduced."

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EXPERTS: CONTAMINATION FROM GM ALFALFA CERTAIN

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) ? Contamination of organic and traditional crops by recently deregulated, genetically modified alfalfa is inevitable, agriculture experts said, despite Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack?s recent assurances the federal government would take steps to prevent such a problem.

Many farmers had been pushing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve the use of genetically modified alfalfa. Monsanto developed the seed to resist the weedkiller Roundup, allowing farmers to use the two together to save time and labor on weeding. Supporters also say the use of the genetically modified seeds lets farmers grow more alfalfa on each acre and helps keep food prices low.

Opponents, many of them organic farmers, say widespread planting of genetically modified alfalfa will result in pollen from those plants contaminating organic and traditional crops, destroying their value. While alfalfa is mostly used as hay for cattle, some consumers don?t want to eat foods, such as milk or beef, from animals that have consumed genetically modified plants.

Alfalfa is grown on about 20 million acres in almost every state in the U.S. and is the fourth largest field crop behind corn, soybeans and wheat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture?s decision late last month to deregulate genetically modified alfalfa was the latest step in a long court fight over its use. A federal court barred its planting in 2007, saying the USDA had not given enough consideration to the effects it could have on the environment and human health. The U.S. Supreme Court lifted the ban last year, saying the lower court?s decision had gone too far. It kicked the matter back to the USDA.

In announcing the agency?s decision, Vilsack said steps would be taken to ensure genetically modified alfalfa wouldn?t cross-pollinate with organic and unmodified crops. USDA officials declined to answer questions about what those steps would entail, pointing to a document posted on the agency?s website.

The text of Vilsack?s announcement says the agency plans include expanding a program in Washington state to produce more unmodified alfalfa seed and maintain a pure supply.

It also says crop geneticists have been told to identify ways to protect unmodified alfalfa from genetically engineered varieties, like they are doing for corn. And, Vilsack has proposed research to improve detection of modified genes in alfalfa and hay. He also promised $1 million for research on the flow of pollen to better determine how big buffer zones between modified and unmodified fields must be to prevent contamination.

None of that will be enough to prevent contamination, said Jeff Wolt, an agronomist with Iowa State University?s Seed Science Center.

?Some degree of cross-pollination will occur regardless of what mechanism is going to be put in place,? he predicted.

A perennial, alfalfa doesn?t need to be planted every year, but the plants are typically rotated with other crops every few years. Alfalfa?s pollination process is more complex than in crops such as corn, with insects playing a big role. But even if insects don?t carry pollen from modified to unmodified plants, contamination could still happen if seed stock was accidentally mixed or a genetically modified plant popped up in a field that had been replanted with something else, Wolt said.

The main thing for consumers to remember, he said, is that genetically modified alfalfa doesn?t present a threat to human health. Instead, the problem for farmers is that some buyers might not accept a contaminated crop.

Unmodified corn, soybeans, canola and rice all suffered contamination after genetically engineered varieties were introduced, said Kristina Hubbard, director of advocacy for the Organic Seed Alliance in Washington. She said measures to protect unmodified and organic crops should have been in place before genetically engineered alfalfa was deregulated.

?It seems backward to initiate those measures after the decision has been made,? Hubbard said.

Her group?s biggest concern now is making sure farmers who plant organic or non-modified crops don?t lose money because of contamination. It wants farmers who plant genetically modified seed to pay for any losses, and Hubbard said the group isn?t interested in talking about ways the two groups of farmers can co-exist until farmers using modified seed agree to pay.

Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher said farmers and seed companies successfully co-existed ?long before the introduction of biotech crops and continue to do so today.?

?Since the advent of biotech crops, both biotech and organic production have flourished,? Helscher said. ?We have no reason to think that will not continue to be the case.?

Todd Streif, who grows alfalfa in northeast Iowa, said the fight over genetically engineered alfalfa has been a ?waste of time and money.?

?I think (the USDA) was probably wrong for not doing the environmental study in the first place, but in the end what did it prove?? said Streif, who farms near West Union. ?It wasted years of production for everybody and a lot of money spent arguing it in court.?

Streif said 60 of the 300 acres of alfalfa he plants this spring will be genetically modified. He doesn?t grow any organic alfalfa and said he wasn?t worried about cross-pollination between his modified and unmodified plants. The nearest organic farm is several miles away.

Fred Kirschenmann, who manages a farm near Jamestown, N.D., but works at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, said he gave up growing organic canola in the late 1990s after Roundup-resistant canola seeds were introduced.

There needed to be two miles between fields to reduce the risk of cross-pollination and ?so much Roundup Ready came into the area, there was no way to find a way to put in a field that was at least two miles from a field with the GMO crop,? Kirschenmann said.

He still raises other organic crops, including alfalfa, and said he?s worried about how genetically engineered alfalfa will affect it.

?There are so many avenues for contamination to happen,? Kirschenmann said. ?It has to be managed extremely carefully, but in the long-term I think there?s going to be a problem.?



                                  PART 2

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   COMPANY REPORTS PLENTIFUL SUPPLY OF BIOTECH ALFALFA SEED

SOURCE:  Capital Press, USA

AUTHOR:  Mateusz Perkowski

URL:     http://www.capitalpress.com/lvstk/mp-alfalfa-seed-market-020411

DATE:    03.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Farmers who want to grow genetically engineered alfalfa should have no problem getting their hands on the seed, according to biotech developers. The USDA?s decision to deregulate the crop has unleashed a stockpile of glyphosate-resistant alfalfa seed that had accumulated over several years."

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COMPANY REPORTS PLENTIFUL SUPPLY OF BIOTECH ALFALFA SEED

Up to two years? supply available, officials estimate

Farmers who want to grow genetically engineered alfalfa should have no problem getting their hands on the seed, according to biotech developers.

The USDA?s decision to deregulate the crop has unleashed a stockpile of glyphosate-resistant alfalfa seed that had accumulated over several years.

?As of noon yesterday, there?s a glut of alfalfa seed,? said Mark Wagoner, a seed grower based in Touchet, Wash., the day after USDA made its announcement on Jan. 27.

Forage Genetics International, which is marketing the Roundup Ready alfalfa developed by Monsanto, would not disclose how much of the biotech seed was in storage.

Farmers under contract with the company were able to produce genetically engineered alfalfa seed in 2007, 2008 and 2009, said Mark McCaslin, president of Forage Genetics. Under a federal judge?s order, seed harvested during those years could not be sold to hay and forage growers.

?There?s quite an inventory of seed built up, so we don?t expect a lot of new (biotech) seed production,? said Beth Nelson, president of the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance.

There?s probably enough Roundup Ready seed in storage to meet farmer demand for up to two years, she said.

Nelson said the sudden influx of genetically engineered seed can be expected to supplant some of the conventional seed available in the market, but she would not comment on how increased overall supplies may affect prices.

Wagoner said the impact shouldn?t be drastic, since seed companies have anticipated the USDA?s decision and scaled back on conventional alfalfa seed production.

Roundup Ready alfalfa also isn?t likely to be embraced as quickly -- or to become as dominant -- as other biotech crops, like corn, soybeans and sugar beets, he said.

In the Midwest, many farmers grow pastures of alfalfa mixed with other crops that can?t withstand glyphosate. Such growers wouldn?t have much use for the biotech trait.

?We think the adoption will vary by region,? said Nelson.

Many farmers in the Midwest also grow alfalfa for their own use instead of selling it to other growers or foreign buyers, Wagoner said. For them, the importance of having weed-free alfalfa may not justify paying roughly twice as much for seed.

?If there?s some weeds they chop up, they don?t really care,? he said.

On a national scale, roughly half of alfalfa acreage is eventually expected to be planted using genetically engineered seed, with most of that production concentrated in the West, Wagoner said.

Between 2005, when Roundup Ready alfalfa was initially deregulated, and 2007, when a federal judge enjoined most production, only about 1 percent to 2 percent of total alfalfa acreage was genetically engineered, said Steve Welker, commercial alfalfa lead for Monsanto.

Even in Western states, farmers are unlikely to plow up young fields of conventional alfalfa to replace it with Roundup Ready varieties, he said. Instead, they?ll switch to genetically engineered alfalfa when it fits into their crop rotation, which may take several years.

?We?ll just have to wait and see,? Welker said.