Judge upholds ban of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed sales

A federal district court judge has upheld his ruling that Roundup Ready alfalfa seed cannot be sold in the U.S. until the USDA completes an environmental impact statement on the impact of herbicide-resistant seed production on organic alfalfa seed.

The ruling can only be described as the tail waging the dog since of the more than 22 million acres of alfalfa grown in the U.S., only about 200,000 acres are certified organic. This would put the majority of Roundup Ready alfalfa hundreds if not thousands of miles away from any organic alfalfa.

Monsanto is considering appealing the decision that could cost conventional alfalfa growers $250 million and create a massive shortage of alfalfa seed for planting this fall and next spring. According to some reports, much of the seed now in production is transgenic varieties, which cannot be planted under the judge’s ruling which stopped Roundup Ready alfalfa seed from being planted anywhere in the U.S. after March 30.

Alfalfa planted before that can continue to be harvested and marketed. An estimated 200,000 acres of the 1.1 million acres established in California is Roundup Ready varieties. California has by far the largest acreage of the herbicide-resistant alfalfa varieties in the U.S.

Monsanto issued a news release saying the company is “disappointed” with the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to not allow farmers to resume planting Roundup Ready alfalfa until the U.S. Department of Agriculture completes an EIS. A hearing on the preliminary injunction was held April 27.

The injunction was issued earlier in the spring by the court following a lawsuit brought by the Center for Food Safety and others against the USDA as Geertson Seed Farms, Inc. et. al v. Mike Johanns, et. al.

Monsanto petitioned the court to become a party in the case to defend grower choice to use the technology.

Despite previous acceptance that Roundup Ready alfalfa posed no harm to humans and livestock, the court upheld its decision that the USDA did not adequately follow procedural requirements as detailed by the National Environmental Policy Act before deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa. Under the Plant Protection Act the court maintained that prior to deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa the USDA would have to prepare an environmental impact statement in place of the environmental assessment that was completed.

To support its argument that growers should have continued access to the technology, Monsanto presented its extensive regulatory and environmental studies on Roundup Ready alfalfa. It also described successful stewardship practices that allow the coexistence of organic, conventional and Roundup Ready alfalfa. Other regulatory agencies around the world, including Canada and Japan, have confirmed the environmental safety of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

One of the plaintiffs’ claims against Roundup Ready alfalfa was that it would cross-pollinate with organic alfalfa. Monsanto Company and Forage Genetics International have shown that with proper stewardship and planting, the two types of cropping systems can successfully coexist. This is supported by various academic studies and real life examples. In fact, Don Cameron, a Helm, Calif., farmer grows a number of organic and biotech crops including organic and Roundup Ready alfalfa. “Proper stewardship makes it possible to grow both organic and biotech crops. We’ve successfully accomplished this for nearly a decade on our operation and plan to continue,” Cameron stated.

"The last decade has shown that biotech and organic crops have successfully co-existed," said Jerry Steiner, executive vice president for Monsanto Company. "We support a farmer's right to choose biotechnology, organic or conventional crops with the proper stewardship practices that make coexistence feasible. We have heard from farmers across the country who are disappointed they can't access this technology."

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) filed a friend-of the-court legal brief outlining the organization's stance. AFBF contends "that a peaceful co-existence can be achieved” through implementation of the USDA's precautions contained in its proposed order.

AFBF submitted the brief to provide information to the court regarding the relative harm a permanent injunction would likely impose on farmers who wish to plant Roundup Ready alfalfa.

Monsanto licenses its traits for Roundup Ready alfalfa to Forage Genetics International, which sells Roundup Ready alfalfa seed.

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