Lawsuit challenges USDA approval of genetically engineered alfalfa

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SAN FRANCISCO – Shortly after a government report cited problems with the USDA’s oversight of genetically engineered crops, a coalition of farmers, farm groups, consumers, and environmentalists filed a lawsuit, calling the USDA’s approval of genetically engineered alfalfa a threat to farmers and a risk to the environment.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the Northern District of California by the Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Western Organization of Resource Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, Dakota Resource Council and two individual alfalfa seed producers.
Request. The suit calls on the court to rescind the deregulated status of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa.
The lawsuit contends that the USDA improperly allowed the commercial release of genetically altered alfalfa, the first commercial release of a genetically altered perennial crop, and failed to analyze the public health, environmental and economic consequences of the release.
The suit also asserts that the genetically altered alfalfa will likely contaminate natural alfalfa and ultimately prevent farmers from producing natural, non-genetically altered alfalfa for markets that demand it.
Export concern. The suit cites the concerns of farmers with export markets.
Buyers in Japan and South Korea, America’s major alfalfa export customers, have strongly stated that concerns about genetic contamination will lead them to avoid U.S. alfalfa if a genetically altered variety is grown in this country.
U.S. alfalfa exports total nearly $480 million per year, with about 75 percent of exports going to Japan.
Environment. In addition to genetic contamination, the lawsuit says genetically altered alfalfa poses unique risks to the environment.
The genetically altered alfalfa is designed to tolerate high doses of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.
Yet, 83 percent of U.S. alfalfa is grown without any herbicides, and many experts note that genetically altered alfalfa could lead to massive increases in herbicide use on alfalfa and more chemical pollution in the environment.
A study of genetically altered soy has already shown that farmers growing the genetically altered variety use two to five times more herbicides than farmers who plant natural soy varieties.
Recent scientific findings link the advent of genetically altered crops to weeds developing resistance to Roundup’s glyphosate. In turn, this weed resistance has led to increased herbicide use and forced farmers to turn to more toxic herbicides.
According to the suit, USDA failed to address the potential impacts of the increased use of Roundup on alfalfa.
Farmers. The department also failed to address issues relating to cross-pollination of wild relatives of alfalfa.
The suit says organic farmers could lose their livelihoods when organic alfalfa is contaminated by the genetically altered variety.
In its assessment of genetically altered alfalfa, USDA acknowledges that bees can pollinate alfalfa two miles away, but states that organic growers should manage the problem with buffer zones.
The suit says the USDA failed to analyze the significant financial loss its decision will cause seed and organic dairy and beef farmers.
Alfalfa, grown on more than 21 million acres, is primarily used in feed for dairy cows and beef cattle.

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