By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 – Following Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's Thursday decision to deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa without restrictions, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) provided further details.

Vilsack explained that “After conducting a thorough and transparent examination of alfalfa through a multi-alternative environmental impact statement (EIS) and several public comment opportunities, APHIS has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa. All of the alfalfa production stakeholders involved in this issue have stressed their willingness to work together to find solutions. We greatly appreciate and value the work they've done so far and will continue to provide support to the wide variety of sectors that make American agriculture successful.”

Responding to concerns raised by conventional and organic growers, USDA stated that “After releasing a final EIS in December 2010, USDA took another step to ensure that this issue received the broadest examination before making its final decision. USDA brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss feasible strategies for coexistence between genetically engineered (GE), organic, and other non-GE stakeholders. The stakeholders helped to identify areas of consensus; issues where the group disagreed and opportunities for further dialogue exist; and areas where USDA could – or should – play an important and helpful role.”

USDA also explained that to answer concerns about its alfalfa decision, it is taking a number of steps, including:

  • “Reestablishing two important USDA advisory committees - Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, and the National Genetic Resources Advisory Committee. These two committees will tackle a broad range of issues, from ensuring the availability of high quality seed, to helping ensure that growers have access to the best tools available to support their production choices, to whether risk management and indemnification options can play a role;”

  • “Conducting research into areas such as ensuring the genetic integrity, production and preservation of alfalfa seeds entrusted to the germplasm system;”

  • “Refining and extending current models of gene flow in alfalfa;”

  • “Requesting proposals through the Small Business Innovation Research program to improve handling of forage seeds and detection of transgenes in alfalfa seeds and hay; and,”

  • “Providing voluntary, third-party audits and verification of industry-led stewardship initiatives.”

Center for Food Safety Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell, speaking for conventional alfalfa growers concerned about the potential loss of export markets, told Agri-Pulse that USDA's proposed steps to research issues related to Roundup Ready alfalfa were steps proposed by the Center for Food Safety. But he said they are steps which needed to be taken before considering deregulation, not after deregulation. He said USDA's decision will be challenged in court the moment publication in the Federal Register makes the decision official.

APHIS' deregulation of Roundup ready alfalfa will become effective upon publication of the Agency's determination of nonregulated status in the Federal Register. To read USDA's 17-page “Record of Decision” on RR alfalfa, click HERE.

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 more on Vilsack's decision, click HERE. For support from Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow and House Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas, click HERE. Strong support comes from Sen. Dick Lugar.

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