U.S. agriculture regulators on Feb. 3 said that U.S. farmers could proceed with planting genetically altered alfalfa without the restrictions that opponents say are needed to protect conventional and organic farm fields from contamination.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the decision made by its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was made after analysis of various economic and environmental factors, and allows GMO farmers to get their crop in the ground this spring.
“After conducting a thorough and transparent examination of alfalfa… APHIS has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
Alfalfa is the fourth-largest U.S. field crop, grown on about 23 million acres annually, and the decision to allow planting of a genetically altered version comes after years of court battles with opponents.
The genetically altered alfalfa was developed by biotech leader Monsanto to tolerate treatments of Roundup herbicide.
But opponents, including conventional and organic farmers, say the biotech alfalfa can easily contaminate their crops because alfalfa is pollinated largely by honey bees, making it difficult to isolate GMO fields from non-GMO strains. Opponents also say increased use of herbicide is translating to increased weed resistance, and the rise of “super weeds.”
A consortium of opponents led by the Center for Food Safety previously won a court decision against USDA for the government’s failure to thoroughly account for the environmental and economic implications of the biotech alfalfa when it approved the crop for the first time in 2005.
A federal court ordered USDA to rescind its approval until the government thoroughly evaluated the impact of the crop.
But opponents said Thursday they still do not believe the government has done so, and they will sue again.
“It is very disappointing. It appears they just capitulated to the demands of the corporations,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, which has led litigation efforts against USDA. “They really are throwing conventional farmers under the bus.”