RR alfalfa bale tagging rule rescinded

USDA/APHIS has rescinded its order requiring that every bale of Roundup Ready alfalfa sold off the farm be individually tagged.

Instead, APHIS said the hay produced from herbicide resistant alfalfa now can be identified by lots.

This impacts the production of about 300,000 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa planted nationwide before a federal district court judge last March halted sale of the transgenic seed until USDA conducts an environmental impact report. About 80,000 acres of the revolutionary forage are planted in California.

The government deregulated the sale of the transgenic alfalfa in the summer of 2005, but the judge’s ruling last spring in a lawsuit filed by environmental radicals in essence rescinded that decision until an environmental impact report is completed.

Monsanto, Forage Genetics and growers, including Mark Watte of Tulare, Calif. have appealed the judge’s ruling. However, Mark McCaslin, president of Forage Genetics, said at the recent California Alfalfa and Forage Symposium that he does not expect RR alfalfa to be back on the market until mid to late 2009.

Industry sources indicated that the injunction appeal process and drafting of the environmental impact report likely would take the same amount of time.

In the meantime, to comply with the judge’s order to track production of RR alfalfa hay, USDA/APHIS was ordered to identify RR alfalfa fields and monitor the production from the 300,000 acres.

USDA/APHIS came out with an onerous set of regulations in July that included a mandate that every single bale of RR alfalfa hay be tagged. This affected the handling of millions of bales of hay each year. While the judge halted the sale of RR alfalfa seed, he also ruled that the hay did not pose a threat to the environment or humans.

Most growers have ignored the bale tagging part of the regulations because they would be too costly and dangerous to people handling the hay and animals eating it. Others have tagged bales, but mostly the large 2,000-pound bales only.

California led the fight to reverse this individual bale tagging rule, working through the California Alfalfa and Forage Association (CAFA). CAFA president Phil Bowles, Bowles Farming, Los Banos, Calif.; Rick Staas, president, San Joaquin Valley Hay Growers Association; and Dan Putnam, UC Davis forage specialist, spearheaded the effort to change the rules working through the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA).

“APHIS’ supplemental order is a great relief to alfalfa producers,” said Beth Nelson, NAFA president. “It makes compliance more affordable, practical and much safer. We’re very pleased with the outcome.”

Unfortunately, six pages of regulations remain that treat RR alfalfa forage and seed like it is a toxic compound if it is sold in commercial channels. This covers harvesting, handling and marketing of the hay. Exempt are farmers who grow the RR alfalfa for animal feed on their own farms.

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