USDA Sides With GE Alfalfa

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture certainly stirred the pot last week when it pulled back from its proposal to regulate genetically engineered alfalfa. The decision was cheered by some farm groups — and certainly by Monsanto, which produced the Roundup-ready alfalfa seed — and disparaged by organic growers. 

Organic growers fear that genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa could spread into their fields. After the USDA initially approved the Monsanto seed, growers filed suit, saying the agency had not properly accounted for the economic and environmental damage the GE alfalfa could do.

A federal court then required the USDA to conduct a more thorough assessment of GE alfalfa. Last month, the USDA said that it might force a range of restrictions on planting of genetically engineered alfalfa seed.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said he might force a compromise between organic and GE proponents, requiring the two to “co-exist.” (See Yonder story here.)

Late last week, however, the USDA announced that it would impose no restrictions on GE alfalfa. Vilsack said U.S. farmers must have the “choice” to plant GE alfalfa. And the USDA secretary said he would try to talk the two sides into a compromise.

“I’m trying to bring people together,” he said. “This set of actions, it seems to me, provides opportunities for preservation of choice in agriculture, creates a set of forms for building trusting relationships that could lead us to better policy in the future,” said Vilsack.

The Center for Food Safety, which led the fight against GE alfalfa, said it would go back to court to challenge the USDA’s decision.

There are all kinds of opinions and observations about the decision. We’ve collected several. Here they are:

The Wall Street Journal: 

The proposed USDA regulations was the latest rule-making proposal shelved as part of the administration’s review of “burdensome” regulation.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s decision not to regulate alfalfa genetically modified to survive applications of the Monsanto Co. herbicide Roundup is a victory for the big seed and agri-chemicals company and the American Farm Bureau Federation, which represents farmers, who had opposed the proposed curbs that were proposed about a month ago.

The Obama administration said earlier this month it is reviewing all proposed government regulation to weed out proposals that are overly burdensome to businesses—part of a broader effort to repair relations with employers and industry. The administration has also shelved two proposed workplace-safety rules opposed by business.

Whole Foods Market in the company’s blog, Whole Story: 

We are very disappointed in the USDA’s decision to deregulate GE Alfalfa with no conditions (meaning no restrictions to support coexistence). Planting GE alfalfa without restrictions may cause potential contamination of organic and non-genetically engineered crops. Despite this setback, Whole Foods Market will continue to be strong advocates for non-GE foods, their clear labeling and offering them in the marketplace.

American Farm Bureau

The American Farm Bureau Federation is pleased by Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’sannouncement that the Agriculture Department will fully deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa. The decision follows the completion of the comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) conducted by USDA that analyzed the potential environmental impact of Roundup Ready alfalfa, and concluded that it is safe and does not represent a plant pest risk. The action is consistent with the department’s statutory authority and the United States’ commitment to a science and risk-based regulatory system for agricultural biotechnology. Decisions based on sound science are the underpinning of U.S. domestic and international biotech policy.

Food and Water Watch

We are extremely dismayed that the USDA has buckled under the pressure of biotech industry by deciding to allow the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa. Allowing GE alfalfa will have long-term, far reaching consequences on many aspects of agriculture, putting non-GE and organic seed supplies at risk of contamination by GE alfalfa. The USDA has given lip service to these concerns, but today’s decision by the agency demonstrates the financial influence that well-connected biotech lobbyists wield over our federal agencies and Congress.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon)

This long approval process began as a search for a workable compromise, but it has ended as a surrender to business as usual for the biotech industry. USDA officials had an opportunity to address the concerns of all farmers, whether they choose to farm genetically altered crops, conventional crops or organic crops, and to find a way for them to coexist. Instead, what we now have is a setback for the nation’s organic and conventional agriculture sectors. Instead of settling this issue, USDA’s decision regrettably guarantees further rounds in the courts.

Monsanto

“This is great news for farmers who have been waiting for the green light to plant Roundup Ready alfalfa,” said Steve Welker, alfalfa commercial lead at Monsanto.  “USDA’s action gives farmers the choice to enjoy the benefits of this product, including superior crop safety and high-quality yield opportunity.”  “The overwhelming positive feedback from the farmers who first planted Roundup Ready alfalfa and ongoing grower surveys indicate significant farmer interest in this product,” 

Barry Estabrook in The Atlantic

With this announcement, the Obama administration showed whose side it is on in the battle between proponents of sustainable, organic agriculture and the big businesses that profit from conventional, chemical agriculture. Big Ag won. It wasn’t even close. 

 

 

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