By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Dec. 16 –On Thursday, Secretary Tom Vilsack released the final environmental impact statement (EIS) that evaluates the potential environmental effects of deregulating Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa. In response to concerns from organic producers, the agency may restrict how and when the crop can be planted as part of the approval process. The document will be available for at least 30 days before the agency decides how to proceed.


“Our goal with the EIS, first and foremost, is to recognize and consider the many concerns that we have heard from all segments of agriculture,” said Secretary Vilsack.  “We are equally committed to finding solutions that support not only the developers and users of biotechnology products, but growers who rely on purity in the non-genetically engineered seed supply.” Vilsack’s concerns come as he considers a broader coexistence policy for all biotech crops.


USDA considered three alternatives during the preparation of the final EIS: 

1) to maintain the RR alfalfa’s status as a regulated article;

2) to deregulate RR alfalfa; or

3) to deregulate RR alfalfa with geographic restrictions and isolation distances for the production of RR alfalfa. 


USDA listed two preferred options: deregulation as one option and the other deregulation accompanied by a combination of isolation distances and geographic restrictions on the production of GE alfalfa seed and, in some locations, hay. 


Under the third option, the “Isolation/Geographic Restrictions Alternative” USDA aims to “address and resolve coexistence issues and concerns about risks of cross pollination and other potential impacts to conventional, and organic alfalfa producers while allowing the commercialization of GT alfalfa,” according to the document.


“This third alternative would impose management practices for the planting, harvesting, use or sale of GT alfalfa seed and in some locations hay. This alternative could be implemented by an APHIS decision to deregulate in part, or through a Federal/industry partnership arrangement. Under this alternative, the developer (marketer) of GT alfalfa would ensure that end users are using the required management practices. They might choose to do this through contracts or licenses, or by other means.”


“In Tier I states there are no restrictions on planting GT alfalfa for forage production. Tier I states are those states in which commercial alfalfa seed is not produced. The 2007 Census of Agriculture identifies these states as: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia,

Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama,Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Alaska, and Hawaii.


“GT alfalfa seed production will be limited to the geographic areas in Tiers II and III where the grower can maintain isolation distances of 5 miles between GT alfalfa and conventional alfalfa,” according to the document.


“States in Tier II are: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas.  Tier III states produce more than 1 percent of the U.S. alfalfa seed. These states are: Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.


The statement will be available for at least 30 days before the agency decides how to proceed


In a press release, USDA maintains that biotechnology holds great promise for agriculture here in the United States, and around the world. “There’s absolutely no doubt of the safety of the many products USDA’s regulatory system has approved.  The examination of these issues through the EIS process, however, highlighted some of the challenges USDA faces in the area of biotechnology regulation as it aims to meet the expectations of its diverse stakeholders. “


“We have seen rapid adoption of biotechnology in agriculture, along with the rise of organic and non-genetically engineered sectors over the last several decades,” Vilsack said in the release.  “While the growth in all these areas is great for agriculture, it has also led, at times, to conflict or, at best, an uneasy coexistence between the different ways of growing crops.  We need to address these challenges and develop a sensible path forward for strengthening coexistence of all segments of agriculture in our country.  All are vital and a part of rural America’s success.  All should be able to thrive together.” 


APHIS will be submitting the EIS to the Environmental Protection Agency for publication in the Federal Register, and USDA anticipates that EPA will publish a notice that the final EIS on RR alfalfa is available for public review in the Federal Register on December 23, 2010.


A copy of the EIS provided to EPA can be reviewed at:

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