Tuesday, January 8, 2008

USDA Gives Green Light to Monsanto's Controversial Gene-Altered Alfalfa That Was Previously Planted

  • USDA Order Outlines RR Alfalfa Rules
    By Elizabeth Larson
    Capital Press Agriculture Weekly, January 7, 2008
    Straight to the Source

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has updated requirements for handling genetically modified alfalfa in the wake of a ruling earlier this year that required the government to re-regulate the hay.

On Dec. 18 the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued a supplemental administrative order which it says "clarifies and replaces" a July 12 order that outlines mandatory practices for Roundup Ready alfalfa producers.

The updated seven-page administrative order adds considerable detail to identifying Roundup Ready alfalfa hay, which is reportedly meant to offer growers more flexibility.

In the initial order, each bale of genetically modified hay had to carry a tag secured to its binding twice that identified it as Roundup Ready alfalfa.

The new rule would allow hay producers the option of identifying the hay by lot, including placing a sign measuring 8.5 inches by 11 inches in size - or larger - marked "Roundup Ready Alfalfa" on loads of the hay.

The supplemental order allows commingling of Roundup Ready hay and other hays on farms, but the order prohibits businesses or producers to sell the hay mixed with non-genetically modified hay, unless it is clearly identified as containing Roundup Ready alfalfa.

Hay sellers must keep labeled Roundup Ready alfalfa segregated from non-genetically modified hay while storing it, the order states.

In addition, the order requires vehicles transporting genetically modified hay to carry extensive documentation information, including the Roundup Ready alfalfa designation; the name, signature and addresses of both buyers and sellers; the hauler's name; a hay lot number; unit count; weight, scale and ticket number; and shipment date.

Beth Nelson, president of the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance, based in St. Paul, Minn., said the group began an effort in August to ask the USDA for amended rules after hearing from concerned alfalfa growers.

"Because the original order came in mid-season, a lot of bales were already stacked," Nelson said. In the West, particularly, a couple of alfalfa cuttings already had been done, Nelson said.

That set up a potentially dangerous situation for growers, who would have to unstack hay to adhere to the regulation, Nelson said. Having to label bales by hand also created a labor-intensive process.

"What we wanted to do was open another option in those situations," Nelson said.

On May 3, 2007, Judge Charles Breyer of Federal Northern District of California issued a permanent injunction on seed sales or new plantings of Monsanto and Forage Genetics' glyphosate-tolerant Roundup Ready alfalfa in a lawsuit filed by Geertson Seed Farms and several co-plaintiffs.

The ruling rolled back the USDA's June 2005 deregulation of the genetically modified alfalfa while a full environmental study is done, which the USDA said could take about two years to complete. However, producers who already had seed planted by March 30 were allowed to continue with production.

Nelson said the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance had already planned a mid-summer trip to Washington, D.C., so they took the opportunity on that trip to meet with USDA officials. The group later filed an official request seeking the change.

Monsanto was involved in the process of asking for the rules to be amended, Nelson said, and developed a form for haulers to carry to meet the USDA's information requirements.

Monsanto representatives couldn't be reached for comment due to the New Year's holiday.

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