portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article announcements united states

environment | genetic engineering


Precedent-setting Decision May Block Planting, Sales of Monsanto Alfalfa


Contact: Will Rostov, Center for Food Safety, 415-826-2770 (415) 307-2154 (cell)
Joseph Mendelson, Center for Food Safety (202) 547-9359 (703) 244-1724 (cell)

(Note: Individual farmers and representatives of organizations who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit are available for comment).

Precedent-setting Decision May Block Planting, Sales of Monsanto Alfalfa

Washington, DC (February 14, 2007) ­In a decision handed down yesterday, a Federal Court has ruled, for the first time ever, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture failed to abide by federal environmental laws when it approved a genetically engineered crop without conducting a full Environment Impact Statement (EIS).

In what will likely be a precedent-setting ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer of the Northern District of California decided in favor of farmers, consumers, and environmentalists who filed a suit calling the USDA's approval of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa a threat to farmers' livelihoods and a risk to the environment. Judge Breyer ordered that a full Environmental Impact Statement must be carried out on "Roundup Ready" alfalfa, the GE variety developed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics. The decision may prevent this season's sales and planting of Monsanto's GE alfalfa and future submissions of other GE crops for commercial deregulation.

Judge Breyer concluded that the lawsuit, brought last year by a coalition of groups led by the Center for Food Safety, raised valid concerns about environmental impacts that the USDA failed to address before approving the commercialization and release of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

In his ruling, the judge consistently found USDA's arguments unconvincing, without scientific basis, and/or contrary to the law. For example:

· The judge found that plaintiffs' concerns that Roundup Ready alfalfa will contaminate natural and organic alfalfa are valid, stating that USDA's opposing arguments were "not convincing" and do not demonstrate the "hard look" required by federal environmental laws. The ruling went on to note that "... For those farmers who choose to grow non-genetically engineered alfalfa, the possibility that their crops will be infected with the engineered gene is tantamount to the elimination of all alfalfa; they cannot grow their chosen crop."

· USDA argued that, based on a legal technicality, the agency did not have to address the economic risks to organic and conventional growers whose alfalfa crop could be contaminated by Monsanto's GE variety. But the judge found that USDA "overstates the law... Economic effects are relevant "when they are 'interelated' with 'natural or physical environmental effects.'... Here, the economic effects on the organic and conventional farmers of the government's deregulation decision are interrelated with, and, indeed, a direct result of, the effect on the physical environment."

· Judge Breyer found that USDA failed to address the problem of Roundup-resistant "superweeds" that could follow commercial planting of GE alfalfa. Commenting on the agency's refusal to assess this risk, the judge noted that "Nothing in NEPA, the relevant regulations, or the caselaw support such a cavalier response."

"This is a major victory for farmers and the environment," said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. "Not only has a Federal Court recognized that USDA failed to consider the environmental and economic threats posed by GE alfalfa, but it has also questioned whether any agency in the federal government is looking at the cumulative impacts of GE crop approvals."

"This is another nail in the coffin for USDA's hands-off approach to regulations on these risky engineered crops," said Will Rostov, Senior Attorney of The Center for Food Safety, which just last week won another judgment calling for USDA to provide more environmental documentation for any new GE field trials.

"This ruling will help protect my rights as a consumer to choose, and I choose organic foods whenever and wherever I can," said Dean Hulse, Fargo, ND-based spokesperson for Dakota Resource Council and the Western Organization of Resource Councils. "The decision rejects Monsanto's claims that transgenic crops are safe for the environment. Many people have been skeptical of those claims, and now we have a judge who's skeptical as well - a judge who has actually studied the facts."

The suit also cited the urgent concerns of farmers who sell to export markets. <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Japan and South Korea, America's most important alfalfa customers, have warned that they will discontinue imports of U.S. alfalfa if a GE variety is grown in this country. U.S. alfalfa exports total nearly $480 million per year, with about 75% headed to Japan. The Court disagreed with USDA's assertion that exports to Japan would not be harmed by deregulation of GE alfalfa.

"Today's ruling reinforces what Sierra Club has been saying all along: the government should look before it leaps and examine how genetically engineered alfalfa could harm the environment before approving its widespread use," said Neil Carman of the Sierra Club's genetic engineering committee. "That's just plain common sense."

Alfalfa is grown on over 21 million acres, and is worth $8 billion per year (not including the value of final products, such as dairy), making it the country's third most valuable and fourth most widely grown crop. Alfalfa is primarily used in feed for dairy cows and beef cattle, and it also greatly contributes to pork, lamb, sheep, and honey production. Consumers also eat alfalfa as sprouts in salads and other foods.

"We applaud the decision of the Court," said Bill Wenzel of the National Family Farm Coalition. "It's unfortunate that we have to turn to judges to do what's right for farmers while the USDA carries water for the biotech companies."

Pat Trask of Trask Family Seeds, a South Dakota conventional alfalfa grower and plaintiff in the case stated: "It's a great day for God's own alfalfa."

The Center for Food Safety represented itself and the following co-plaintiffs in the suit: Western Organization of Resource Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, Dakota Resource Council, Trask Family Seeds, and Geertson Seed Farms.

For more information, please visit www.centerforfoodsafety.org .

homepage: homepage: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org

that's great 15.Feb.2007 17:32


thanks for the news.

... 15.Feb.2007 19:29

this thing here

the mindset of biotech corporations and biotech cheerleaders, that there is absolutely no difference between genetically modified organisms and non-modified organisms, is out of hand completely and totally erroneous.

clearly, would such non-difference need to be protected by patenting and liscensing? how can monsanto on the one hand claim there is no difference between round-up ready alfalfa and regular alfalfa, while at the same time patenting and liscensing it so as to protect the profit generated BY THAT DIFFERENCE? it's completely ridiculous.

there is such a clear pattern here. biotech companies, with the aid and abettment of the u.s. government, are quite literally throwing their seeds into wind, without any concerns, betting that once all crops are contaminated, no one will really notice that, in fact, there are some very serious and problematic differences between gmo and non-gmo. "well, oops, too late now."

genetic modification has been going on since man first walked the earth. i don't dispute that. however, today genetic modification is on steroids and meth and has no conceivable limit. i am so goddamned tired of hearing how it will benefit mankind. save it. NOW is the time to ask the really really really really hard questions. and to answer them.

how far are we going to take genetic modification? who IS accountable? who SHOULD be accountable? on and on. ANSWER THE FUCKING QUESTIONS. NOW. not later. later means when shit has already flown off the handle. too late. too late for a bunch of lazy, childish societies that didn't want to do the right thing when they had the chance. "shut up. we don't care. we just want to make lots of money and count our pretty pennies." you're being warned. as plants go, so will the animals. as animals go, so will the humans. after the coming resource wars, prepare for the genetic class wars. both needless, preventable wars....

Hurrah for Judge Breyer; down with Monsanto, the worst company in the world! 17.Feb.2007 11:25

Emily Maloney, Santa Cruz emtm12@sbcglobal.net

Monsanto should really be put out of business. It is causing immense damage all over the world, with no benefit whatsoever coming from its activities. Monsanto has fought for years to insure that legislation in Congress that would require the labelling of GMO foods is defeated. It is absolutely sickening that we have no way of knowing what we are eating, no way of opting NOT to buy GMO foods! Monsanto must be making big payoffs to legislators who have defeated legislation that would require labelling of GMO Foods. Down with Monsanto - which heads the list, followed by Wal Mart and Starbucs - of being the worst company in the world!

(831) 475-0435
141-34th Avenue, Santa Cruz