By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 – Saying that “there is no question as to the safety of Roundup Ready alfalfa,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday that genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa can be planted “without conditions.” He explained USDA was determined to make the announcement as soon as possible to allow for spring planting to go ahead without further uncertainty.

One option which USDA had considered last month was to allow GE plantings to go ahead but with geographic restrictions in order to protect organic and conventional alfalfa growers from having their crops affected by GM alfalfa.

Vilsack said he hopes to make announcements next week on GE sugar beets and corn. But he stressed that the alfalfa announcement should not be seen as a precedent for future decisions on biotech crops because “all crops are different.”

Speaking in an afternoon press conference announced just one hour earlier, Vilsack said USDA will undertake a series of measures to assure the continued purity and supply of non-GE alfalfa seed. These steps will include research on finding ways to “lessen the risk of gene flow.” He said USDA will also establish new fields for growing alfalfa in “remote” locations “to maintain purity of seed.”

Vilsack said USDA is encouraging continuing discussions involving GE advocates and organic and conventional growers to discuss continuing concerns – such as how to handle compensation if organic or conventional crops are affected by GM pollen. In such cases, organic alfalfa growers or organic dairies would lose their ability to sell their alfalfa hay or dairy products at a premium. But Vilsack said Thursday that he the risk of such problems occurring is very low.

For Stewart Doan's audio report on reactions, click HERE. Conventional alfalfa growers will go to court to reverse GE alfalfa deregulation. To read USDA's 17-page “Record of Decision” on Roundup Ready GE alfalfa, click HERE. For support from Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow and House Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas, click HERE. For details of the USDA deregulation plan, click HERE. Strong support comes from Sen. Dick Lugar.

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