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CONTAMINATION & REGULATION: U.S. farmer Phil Geertson fights GE alfalfa deregulation since 2003



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   THE SEEDIER SIDE OF ALFALFA CONTAMINATION

SOURCE:  MorphCity, USA

AUTHOR:  Cassandra Anderson

URL:     http://morphcity.com/home/89-the-seedier-side-of-alfalfa-contamination

DATE:    08.02.2011

SUMMARY: "When RR alfalfa was first proposed, Geertson realized that all alfalfa could quickly be contaminated by the Roundup Ready RR gene and that is the reason that he was the lead plaintiff against the USDA for deregulating GE alfalfa in 2005. Deregulation of GE crops means that seeds and plants may be planted without any restrictions. Geertson said that GE alfalfa will contaminate all alfalfa plants!"

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THE SEEDIER SIDE OF ALFALFA CONTAMINATION

Phil Geertson is a conventional alfalfa seed grower who has been involved in efforts to stop GE (genetically engineered) alfalfa since 2003 resulting in a Supreme Court decision in 2010

Mr. Geertson began his career as a Registered Civil Engineer but later changed his life?s work to farming and plant breeding in order to enjoy the outdoors. He has spent the last 30 years farming and raising many diversified crops and has been a partner in alfalfa breeding programs for 25 years. When RR (Roundup Ready) alfalfa was first proposed, Geertson realized that all alfalfa could quickly be contaminated by the Roundup Ready RR gene and that is the reason that he was the lead plaintiff against the USDA for deregulating GE alfalfa in 2005. Deregulation of GE crops means that seeds and plants may be planted without any restrictions. Geertson said that GE alfalfa will contaminate all alfalfa plants!

US Federal Judge Breyer placed a nationwide injunction against growing GE alfalfa in 2007 and Monsanto took this case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court removed the nationwide injunction against planting GE alfalfa, deeming it to be ?too broad?. However, GE alfalfa seeds were still illegal to plant because the Supreme Court allowed Judge Breyer?s order barring planting of GE crops to stand until the USDA?s final Environmental Impact Statement was completed. The USDA completed the final Environmental Impact Statement in December 2010. The USDA announced that they deregulated GE alfalfa again for unlimited planting in January.

Geertson feels that this case will likely go back to Judge Breyer?s court, because the Supreme Court remanded the case back to Breyer?s court in their decision. Geertson also said that because of the bad science used by the USDA in its final Environmental Impact Statement, Judge Breyer may issue another injunction and the case will be tied up in court again. Click here for Geertson?s analysis of the USDA?s bad science.

AmericanGothGeertson also explained that alfalfa is particularly prone to contamination because it is a perennial plant (a plant that lives for more than 2 years) that can be cross pollinated by insects that travel long distances and alfalfa seeds can lie dormant in the ground for 10 to 20 years. Unlike corn, cotton and soybeans that are annuals and do not grow as feral plants in the environment and need to be planted each year, alfalfa is a perennial. Therefore, alfalfa will be permanently contaminated.

I asked Geertson if Forage/Monsanto?s Roundup Ready alfalfa seeds were cheaper when they were introduced- it was surprising when he said that the RR seeds were more expensive. He said that farmers like RR seed products because they are convenient: the farmers can plant them, spray them with glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) and then forget about them until harvest. There is far less labor involved in planting RR products. When Monsanto introduces a new product, they have splashy ad campaigns and farmers line up to buy the new seeds. The small independent seed growers lose sales and go out of business or get bought out. Forage Genetics/Monsanto owns 60%-70% of the alfalfa market.

Roundup herbicides lose their value after a few years because while they are effective for a few years, weeds and other plants become resistant to them. The RR technology is worthless when the commercial crop has to compete with these weeds and other plants. The crop yields are reduced and difficult to harvest; the farmers must then revert to conventional methods to control the weeds. Some examples of this include the giant amaranth that has invaded GE corn and cotton fields; the same will true for GE sugar beets that will have to compete with red root pigweed. So, there is really no advantage to planting GE RR crops after a few seasons because weeds and other plants develop a resistance to glyphosate spray. But all of the small independent seed companies will be gone and Monsanto will own the agricultural seed industry.

Monsanto?s business has declined because their patents are expiring. For instance, Geertson estimated that 60% of their RR spray market was lost to cheaper generic brands. Geertson said that Monsanto has not been bashful about charging exorbitant prices for their patented RR spray. After Monsanto?s patent expired, generic glyphosate flooded the market and brought prices down dramatically.

GM Watch reports that Monsanto has raised prices for its products at a ?whopping? rate in the past. For example, between 2006 to 2008, soybean seed prices rose from an average of $32.30 to $49.23 per bag; this calculates to a 52% increase. GM Watch further states, ?Patenting also inhibits public sector research and further undermines the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds. Monsanto devotes an annual budget of 10 million dollars to harassing, intimidating, suing - and in some cases bankrupting - American farmers over alleged improper use of its patented seeds.?

Phil Geertson has grave concerns about the health safety effects of GE products that have not been tested and proven safe.

He is also concerned about contamination by GE seeds that cannot be recalled from the environment.

Mr. Geertson said that he is dismayed over the lack of accountability of large corporations and individuals who are responsible for these potential health and environmental disasters.

If the USDA is successful in neglecting valid science and deregulating plants by decree, this may result in the loss of pure food and our very lives could be at stake.

Geertson has tried to warn farmers about the adverse effects of GE products but the farm media, the most direct way to reach many farmers in his opinion, refuses to publish his articles. He believes that the reason for this is because the media collects big advertising fees from GE product producers so the publications don?t want to offend their source of income. Therefore, farmers are prevented from learning about GE products that can irreparably contaminate the environment, among other things. Mr. Geertson is writing an article for farmers about the negative aspects of RR alfalfa. It may be necessary for him to get the information to the farmers by paying for advertising, probably from paid donations.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   ALFALFA GROWER SUPPORTS ANOTHER FIGHT AGAINST GENETICALLY MODIFIED ALFALFA

SOURCE:  Rapid City Journal, USA

AUTHOR:  Andrea J. Cook

URL:     http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/news/article_060bbfd6-3659-11e0-9be1-001cc4c03286.html

DATE:    12.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Trask and Geertson, along with the Center for Food Safety, and others battled USDA all the way to the Supreme Court to block the release of Roundup Ready alfalfa. Trask said Friday that the fight isn?t over to prevent the continued cultivation of the herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Roundup Ready crops are genetically engineered so they can survive when fields are treated with the herbicide Roundup."

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ALFALFA GROWER SUPPORTS ANOTHER FIGHT AGAINST GENETICALLY MODIFIED ALFALFA

As the spring planting season approaches, Elm Springs farmer and rancher Pat Trask is not focused on cultivation but on stopping the planting of genetically engineered Roundup Ready alfalfa seed.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced recently that USDA was deregulating the genetically modified forage crop in time for spring planting.

Vilsack said the decision will ensure choice for American farmers.

?The ability of American farmers and ranchers and growers to continually have a multitude of choices to figure out what is best for their operation is a very important value in American agriculture,? Vilsack said at a Jan. 27 news conference. ?And it is a very important value in rural America, and the capacity to facilitate a trusting relationship between folks who are working the land and making decisions and recognizing that there are different ways to do things, I think is very important in terms of ensuring that choice is maintained in the future.?

Trask and Oregon alfalfa seed producer Phil Geertson feel differently. They believe deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa will destroy the livelihoods of the growers of organic and conventional alfalfa due to the potential for cross pollination, which would spread Roundup Ready?s modified genes to all strains of alfalfa.

Trask and Geertson, along with the Center for Food Safety, and others battled USDA all the way to the Supreme Court to block the release of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

Trask said Friday that the fight isn?t over to prevent the continued cultivation of the herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Roundup Ready crops are genetically engineered so they can survive when fields are treated with the herbicide Roundup.

?The effort is underway to head off the spring planting,? he said.

The Center for Food Safety?s attorneys plan to seek an injunction to block spring planting.

The Supreme Court issued a two-pronged decision last summer that, while it struck down a California Appeals Court judge?s permanent injunction against the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa, also ordered USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to complete an environmental impact before any more seed was sold.

The environmental statement was completed and released in mid-December. The comment period on the statement ended in the third week in January, Trask said.

According to Trask, the timing was carefully crafted to fall during the congressional holiday recess.

?So that there was an element of surprise for all of the persons who had to respond to that, and that includes us,? he said.

Shortly after Vilsack revealed the deregulation of genetically modified alfalfa, a partial deregulation of sugar beets was announced.

Attorneys are scrambling to respond to both actions, Trask said.

?Right now the attorneys are screening over 1,200 and some pages in each one of those deregulation decisions before we file the briefs and motions,? Trask said.

The Center for Food Safety has two major concerns with the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa, according to a letter the Center?s executive director Andrew Kimbrell sent recently to Vilsack.

?Two of our major concerns with RRA deregulation are unintended gene flow from RRA to conventional and organic alfalfa, and the likelihood that introduction of RRA would worsen the ongoing epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds,? Kimbrell wrote. ?Gene flow and resistant weeds have already caused substantial harm to thousands of American farmers, thus deserve careful analysis in the context of RRA.?

Trask pointed out that during a USDA comment period on the draft environmental impact statement in 2007, 220,000 farmers wrote letters opposing the glyphosate-resistant forage crop.

Alfalfa is a perennial plant that depends upon bees and wind for pollination.

USDA has acknowledged that the risk of cross-contamination exists that could threaten non-genetically engineered alfalfa.

To preserve and protect the purity and availability of non-genetically engineered alfalfa seed, Vilsack is directing the Agriculture Research Service in Prosser, Wash., to investigate how best to optimize production of high-purity alfalfa seed.

Vilsack is also creating a $1 million research grant to evaluate and improve the reliability of predictions for pollen flow from genetically engineered alfalfa fields to fields of non-engineered alfalfa seed.

Vilsack said the several steps that he is initiating should ?reassure folks that we have a commitment to maintaining purity of seed for non-GE alfalfa which in turn should assure folks that we will preserve choice.?

Roundup Ready alfalfa is already on sale in South Dakota, but Trask still believes a legal solution is possible to prevent what he predicts could become the permanent loss of non-genetically modified alfalfa.

So far, every branch of the nation?s judiciary has sided with opponents of the genetically modified perennial, he said.

?They do know the difference and they fear the loss of that because they know that it is a permanent loss,? Trask said.



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:   ORGANIC PRODUCER REACTS TO DEREGULATION OF ROUNDUP READY ALFALFA

SOURCE:  KFBB-TV, USA

AUTHOR:  Charlie Keegan

URL:     http://www.kfbb.com/news/local/Organic-Producer-Reacts-to-Deregulation-of-Roundup-Ready-Alfalfa-116003764.html

DATE:    11.02.2011

SUMMARY: "The financial loss leads to the debate on who should pay for the organic producer?s loss. ?We don?t like to put farmers against farmers. We would just as soon like to see the person that put that GMO trait responsible for their actions,? Lassila says. The Roundup brand is owned by Monsanto, a company with a history of suing producers after their biotech crops are found on neighboring farms. That?s why Lassila and others are backing Senate Bill 218 to protect farmers. ?It proposes the legal action that the patent holder has to address the grower with,? Lassila says."

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ORGANIC PRODUCER REACTS TO DEREGULATION OF ROUNDUP READY ALFALFA

Late last month, the US Department of Agriculture announced the deregulation of Roundup Ready Alfalfa. It?s the first time since 2007 that producers will be able to grow the crop.

Roundup Ready Alfalfa is a genetically modified crop made to withstand the Roundup herbicide.

Guidelines say crops cannot be genetically modified to be defined as organic. While organic farmers don?t use herbicides like Roundup, they?re still feeling the consequences of the USDA?s decision.

?It was shocking, disappointing. The organic industry depended on the security of that ruling,? organic producer and Chair of the Montana Organic Association, Daryl Lassila says.

He is worried about how the deregulation will impact the $26 billion a year organic market. Saying, ?It is going to make it hard on the organic farmer to guarantee his product and it?s going to make it hard for the consumer to find the product.?

One big concern for organic producers is cross pollination of GMOs to their crop. ?You lose your market and you lose your income,? Lassila explains.

The financial loss leads to the debate on who should pay for the organic producer?s loss. ?We don?t like to put farmers against farmers. We would just as soon like to see the person that put that GMO trait responsible for their actions,? Lassila says.

The Roundup brand is owned by Monsanto, a company with a history of suing producers after their biotech crops are found on neighboring farms. That?s why Lassila and others are backing Senate Bill 218 to protect farmers. ?It proposes the legal action that the patent holder has to address the grower with,? Lassila says.

At 2 J?s Fresh Market, cross pollination affects what you find on the shelves. ?It makes it more difficult for organic products to stay organic, possibly affecting price, but health more importantly,? Marketing Director at 2 J?s Colter Pedersen says.

Another consequence, Pedersen says prices for organic meat could see an increase with more farmers using Roundup Ready Alfalfa to feed their livestock instead of conventional alfalfa

Lassila says several organic and conventional farmers are working to get Roundup Ready Alfalfa off the market again.

Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified and last week the USDA allowed biotech sugar beets on the market.

Next week, we?ll have part two of the story hearing from proponents of the bio-tech crop.



                                  PART 4

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TITLE:   DEMAND FOR ROUNDUP READY ALFALFA UNKNOWN

SOURCE:  Capital Press, USA

AUTHOR:  Cecilia Parsons

URL:     http://www.capitalpress.com/dairy/CP-alfalfa-reaction-021111

DATE:    10.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Regulatory agencies, the courts and environmental groups have all had their say about Roundup Ready alfalfa. Now the people who put the seed in the ground will be the measurement of demand for the biotech crop. Joe Machado, at the America?s Alfalfa display at World Ag Expo confirmed that growers are excited about planting, but the timing is wrong for the spring."

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DEMAND FOR ROUNDUP READY ALFALFA UNKNOWN

Forecaster says more will be planted in the fall than in the spring

TULARE, Calif. -- Regulatory agencies, the courts and environmental groups have all had their say about Roundup Ready alfalfa. Now the people who put the seed in the ground will be the measurement of demand for the biotech crop.

Joe Machado, at the America?s Alfalfa display at World Ag Expo confirmed that growers are excited about planting, but the timing is wrong for the spring. The alfalfa variety that is genetically engineered to be glyphosate-resistant was released for planting with no restrictions on Jan. 27. Machado said fall planting is preferred in California and growers have already made planting decisions for the spring.

High corn, wheat and cotton prices are giving growers other planting options. There is also concern that milk prices may drop, leaving dairies, which consume 70 percent of the state?s alfalfa crop, short on funds for hay purchases.

The release of Roundup Ready alfalfa is still a bright spot for growers who have been hit with high production costs and low prices. Growers who planted Roundup Ready alfalfa when it was first allowed are pleased, and their neighbors who wanted to plant it are pleased that they will have that opportunity, Machado said.

David Roberti, a third-generation hay grower from Loyalton, Calif., said he doesn?t have a lot of other options given his location, and Roundup Ready alfalfa will make it easier for him to produced high-quality dairy hay. Grassy areas in some of his pivot-irrigated fields will be easier to eliminate.

Roberti, one of the winners in the expo?s Forage Challenge, said he thinks planting RR alfalfa will be worth the higher seed costs, which will be offset by lower herbicide costs.

Hay market forecaster Seth Hoyt, a speaker at the expo?s Hay and Forage seminars, said it does not appear spring planting of the crop will be big in the western states as planting decisions were made before the USDA announcement. More Roundup Ready alfalfa will be planted in the fall.

?I think growers want this, but I hope it doesn?t get hung up in court,? Hoyt said.

There are problems that must be resolved before research can advance, Dan Putnam, University of California forage specialist, said.

Planting Roundup Ready alfalfa will increase the chances for herbicide resistant weeds, Putnam said, so the hay industry will have to develop management strategies to prevent that.

For more information about RR alfalfa, go to the website http//alfalfa.ucdavis.edu.