The U.S. Agriculture Department on Dec. 14 said it determined there would be no significant environmental harm to deregulating genetically modified alfalfa, but said it will open its preliminary finding to public comment before issuing a final decision.
USDA first deregulated two types of Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2005. A federal judge in California ruled two years later that the department acted illegally by failing to fully analyze the environmental impact on neighbouring crops.
The federal judge also issued an injunction blocking the sale of the alfalfa seed until the environmental review was complete. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s ruling twice.
The draft environmental impact statement released Dec. 14 will be open for public comment for 60 days beginning on Dec. 18 before the USDA will review whether to deregulate the alfalfa.
If the genetically modified alfalfa is deregulated, it would allow the crop, used to feed livestock, to be moved and planted without permits or other oversight from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
APHIS said in a statement it will consider all public comments “before finalizing the (environmental impact statement) or making any decisions regarding the regulatory status of the (Roundup Ready) alfalfa.”
Conventional seed companies along with environmental and consumer groups sued the USDA in February 2006 to force it to rescind its 2005 approval of the Monsanto Co. seed until it completed a full environmental study.
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, has since asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Appeal Court’s ruling.
Alfalfa is not the only crop that has come under fire. A similar ruling in September found USDA improperly approved genetically modified sugar beets. The judge also ordered USDA to conduct a rigorous environmental review study.