The U.S. Department of Agriculture fully deregulated Roundup Ready alfalfa, a decision that was clouded in December when the agency proposed to potentially tie conditions to the deregulation.
A source stated that now that activists have exhausted National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) lawsuits, they have advised USDA that they are now going to sue them for approving RR alfalfa without proper consultation with Fish and Wildlife Service as required by the Endangered Species Act.
USDA's deregulation authorizes resumption of the sale and planting of Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa. Roundup Ready alfalfa was developed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics International (FGI). The USDA decision comes in time for spring planting, Monsanto said.
Roundup Ready alfalfa was commercialized in 2005. More than 5,000 farmers had planted Roundup Ready alfalfa on over 250,000 acres before a court ruling regarding USDA’s administrative process halted further sales and planting first in 2007.
The deregulation was the final step in an extensive environmental review process undertaken by the USDA that took 46 months to complete. FGI said some of the benefits of RRA include a more productive and profitable crop, with RRA users self reporting a $110 per-acre advantage over conventional alfalfa. For many growers RRA also requires less use of crop protection products, providing both financial and environmental benefits.
USDA's unconditional deregulation was praised by groups stating it allowed farmers the ability to choose while still maintaining the science-based approach the United States has become known for among international players.
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives president Chuck Conner said, “In deregulating RRA without conditions, USDA has upheld the integrity of regulatory process for biotechnology crops that has existed since the adoption of the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology in 1986.” Conner, who was USDA’s Deputy Secretary during the Bush Administration, called Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s decision “a victory.”
Jim Greenwood, president and chief executive officer of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said in a statement on Jan. 27, “Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s decision is based on sound science and two decades of regulatory precedent…This action also supports President Obama’s pledge to support science-based decision-making and to steer away from policies that create barriers to economic growth.”
Many farm groups, along with the biotechnology industry, strongly opposed USDA’s proposed restrictions on biotech alfalfa to establish a broad regulatory policy for agricultural “coexistence.” The groups were concerned that USDA’s earlier proposals would have set a dangerous precedent for the continued development of biotech traits, undermined 25 years of science-based regulatory policy in the United States, and damaged efforts to ensure that international trading partners base decisions surrounding biotechnology on science.
Jim Zimmerman, vice chairman of the National Corn Growers Assn.'s Trade Policy and Biotechnology Action team, said the decision was the right one. "A clean, full deregulation is the best decision for producers and lets farmers plant the kind of alfalfa they choose this spring.”
A statement from the American Soybean Assn., added USDA's decision "recognizes that cooperation on coexistence best can be achieved neighbor to neighbor, and by working with trade associations, trait developers, seed companies, and state and local officials."
Meanwhile, organic interests were not pleased with the decision by USDA to fully deregulate biotech alfalfa. Except for 2009, the organic industry has experienced double digit growth--often over 20% --annually for over a decade and represents a $26.6 billion a year industry.
"This creates a perplexing situation when the market calls for a supply of crops free of genetic engineering. The organic standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, and consumers will not tolerate the accidental presence of genetic engineered materials in organic products yet GE crops continue to proliferate unchecked," said Christine Bushway, executive director and chief executive officer of the Organic Trade Assn. (OTA).
Policy is one of the most important issues facing farmers today, but often the most difficult to digest. Jacqui Fatka has a passion to decode the often difficult world of agricultural policy into terms understandable for today's ag players.
Fatka joined the Farm Progress team as E-Content Editor in August 2003 after graduating from Iowa State University. Prior to full-time employment with Farm Progress, she interned at Wallaces Farmer magazine, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley's press office and the Iowa Pork Producers Association and freelanced for National Hog Farmer. She also worked as a public relations consultant with Iowa Industries for the Future, an effort to bring together major players in the biorenewables industry.
Currently Fatka is a staff editor at a sister publication, Feedstuffs. For Farm Futures she regularly tells the story of ongoing agricultural policy changes. Her byline can also be found on management profiles.
Fatka grew up on a grain and livestock farm near Atlantic, Iowa. She currently lives in central Ohio with her husband Eric, and their three children - Josiah, Spencer and Avonell.
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