The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced its decision to grant non-regulated status for alfalfa that has been genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide commercially known as Roundup.
“After conducting a thorough and transparent examination of alfalfa through a multi-alternative environmental impact statement (EIS) and several public comment opportunities, APHIS has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa,” said Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary. “All of the alfalfa production stakeholders involved in this issue have stressed their willingness to work together to find solutions. We greatly appreciate and value the work they’ve done so far and will continue to provide support to the wide variety of sectors that make American agriculture successful.”
After releasing a final EIS in December 2010, USDA took another step to ensure that this issue received the broadest examination before making its final decision. USDA brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss feasible strategies for coexistence between genetically engineered (GE), organic, and other non-GE stakeholders. The stakeholders helped to identify areas of consensus; issues where the group disagreed and opportunities for further dialogue exist; and areas where USDA could – or should – play an important and helpful role.
In response to the request for support from its stakeholders, USDA is taking a number of steps, including:
• Reestablishing two important USDA advisory committees — Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, and the National Genetic Resources Advisory Committee. These two committees will tackle a broad range of issues, from ensuring the availability of high quality seed, to helping ensure that growers have access to the best tools available to support their production choices, to whether risk management and indemnification options can play a role;
• Conducting research into areas such as ensuring the genetic integrity, production and preservation of alfalfa seeds entrusted to the germplasm system;
• Refining and extending current models of gene flow in alfalfa;
• Requesting proposals through the Small Business Innovation Research program to improve handling of forage seeds and detection of transgenes in alfalfa seeds and hay;
• Providing voluntary, third-party audits and verification of industry-led stewardship initiatives.
There was a mixed response on the decision from agriculture. Many groups, including the National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) were very supportive of the non-regulation status.
“Today’s decision is a victory for science and for America’s alfalfa producers, giving them access to a safe, proven technology that will allow them to boost productivity while enhancing their good stewardship of natural resources,” said Chuck Conner, NCFC President and CEO. “In deregulating RRA without conditions, USDA has upheld the integrity of regulatory process for biotechnology crops that has existed since the adoption of the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology in 1986.”
There were some unhappy organizations, though. The Center for Food Safety, with The Cornucopia Institute and others, led the fight to further examine and regulate the biotech alfalfa.
“We are extremely disappointed with the USDA’s decision to fully deregulate Monsanto’s GE-alfalfa. It appears that the political muscle of bio-tech sector trumped the many concerns about widespread contamination of organic and conventional alfalfa that were expressed by tens of thousands of consumers and farmers to the USDA. This action raises the likelihood of a renewed court challenge by the Center for Food Safety to GE-alfalfa, a case in which The Cornucopia Institute is a plaintiff.”