Federal court rejects latest challenge to biotech alfalfa

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2012 -A federal district judge in San Francisco has thrown out the most recent challenge in the long legal campaign to overturn USDA's decision to approve biotech alfalfa for commercial planting. But the determined coalition of opponents of agricultural biotechnology immediately served notice that they would take their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Judge Samuel Conti's Jan. 5 decision took apart five allegations by the challengers, led again by Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Food Safety, that USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service had not followed the law in the environmental impact statement and the process leading up to the decision to deregulate the “Roundup Ready” variety early last year. He granted the government's motion to dismiss the suit and declined to overturn the APHIS ruling.

The challengers' assertion that APHIS failed to adequately consider glyphosate-resistant weeds “was fundamentally flawed for a variety of reasons,” Conti wrote. “These arguments are undercut by the administrative record.” He added that APHIS addressed the potential weed risks and considered alternative methods of weed control including the application of other herbicides. 

Conti also found that APHIS took the “hard look” at the impacts - including the risk of cross-pollination - mandated by law. “The agency discussed the likelihood of gene transfer between alfalfa varieties, the potential socioeconomic impacts of deregulation on conventional alfalfa farmers, and ultimately concluded that contamination was possible but unlikely,” the opinion said. Moreover, he found “no indication that Congress intended APHIS to regulate genetically engineered crops as plant pests based on their potential to interbreed with other crops.”

Demand for the biotech variety, developed by Monsanto and the Forage Genetics International subsidiary of Land O'Lakes, has been strong in the year since USDA cleared it for the second time, according to Oregon's Capital Press. Some put its penetration as high as 50 percent.



Original story printed in January 18, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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