WASHINGTON — The USDA recently announced the availability of the final environmental impact statement that evaluates the potential environmental effects of deregulating alfalfa genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, which is known commercially as Roundup.
This genetically engineered alfalfa is commonly referred to as Roundup Ready alfalfa.
“Our goal with the EIS, first and foremost, is to recognize and consider the many concerns that we have heard from all segments of agriculture,” said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. “We are equally committed to finding solutions that support not only the developers and users of biotechnology products, but growers who rely on purity in the non-genetically engineered seed supply.”
USDA considered three alternatives during the preparation of the final EIS: to maintain the Roundup Ready alfalfa’s status as a regulated article; to deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa; or to deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa with geographic restrictions and isolation distances for the production of Roundup Ready alfalfa.
USDA has thoroughly analyzed the potential environmental impacts of the proposed alternatives and has listed two preferred options: deregulation as one option and the other as deregulation accompanied by a combination of isolation distances and geographic restrictions on the production of genetically engineered alfalfa seed and, in some locations, hay.
By listing both options as preferred, USDA has considered plant pest issues as well as broader environmental and economic issues related to the coexistence between genetically engineered, non-genetically engineered and organic alfalfa production.
USDA maintains that biotechnology holds great promise for agriculture here in the U.S., and around the world. There’s absolutely no doubt of the safety of the many products USDA’s regulatory system has approved.
The examination of these issues through the EIS process, however, highlighted some of the challenges USDA faces in the area of biotechnology regulation as it aims to meet the expectations of its diverse stakeholders.
“We have seen rapid adoption of biotechnology in agriculture, along with the rise of organic and non-genetically engineered sectors over the last several decades,” Vilsack said. “While the growth in all these areas is great for agriculture, it has also led, at times, to conflict or, at best, an uneasy coexistence between the different ways of growing crops.
“We need to address these challenges and develop a sensible path forward for strengthening coexistence of all segments of agriculture in our country. All are vital and a part of rural America’s success. All should be able to thrive together.”
Vilsack said that USDA will use this opportunity to begin a conversation on how to move forward and find strategies for strengthening coexistence.
It is important to note that the EIS USDA released is not a decision document. It is an analysis of the impacts of the various alternatives with regard to their potential environmental and related economic impacts.
The final EIS will be available for public review for at least 30 days before USDA will publish a record of decision on how it will proceed. A copy of the EIS provided to EPA can be reviewed at www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/downloads/alfalfa/gt_alfalfa%20_feis.pdf.