By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 – In deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa Thursday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that he'd included research efforts in order to end litigation over genetically engineered (GE) crops. But Center for Food Safety Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell says there will be a court challenge the instant publication in the Federal Register makes USDA's alfalfa decision official.

Representing conventional alfalfa growers concerned about the loss of export markets, Kimbrell told Agri-Pulse that USDA's proposed steps to research issues related to Roundup Ready alfalfa include steps proposed by the Center for Food Safety. But he said this research needed to be taken before considering deregulation, not after deregulation: “You don't do gene flow studies after you've already opened Pandora's box” by deregulating without full understanding of potential impacts.

Kimbrell also points out that USDA's announcement did not address concerns about liability for losses caused by GE contamination of conventional or organic alfalfa. A USDA spokesman confirmed to Agri-Pulse that USDA's deregulation plans do not include any measures to deal with possible compensation for losses.

Kimbrell says USDA should have learned from a series of past federal court decisions that “it's not fair to farmers” to announce decisions that are certain to be overturned by the courts. He says that because USDA apparently hasn't learned, “of course, we'll see them in court where we expect to win, again.” He expects any judge to rule that “it's totally arbitrary for an agency to pretty much lay out what it ought to do before deregulating and then go ahead and deregulate but say 'We'll get some of that done later.'”

Kimbrell warns that “all farmers should be on notice that we will be suing again, so before they make their seed buying decisions, I would certainly caution them that we will be in court and I think that anybody who looks at our past record over the last five years will realize that we haven't lost yet. We will be back in court to vacate this deregulation once it becomes official.” He says the legal challenge will be based on USDA's failure to address either the gene flow issues or the economic loss issues raised in previous court cases.

Representing organic growers, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) reacted equally strongly, charging that USDA's alfalfa decision represents a “failure to protect farmer and consumer choice.” OTA states that “The organic industry and the loyal consumers of organic products will continue to resist this unrestricted commercialization of GE crops being brought to market by the well-funded and influential biotech industry.”

OTA charges that already “Unrestricted commercialization of genetically engineered crops – 86 percent of the country’s corn and 93 percent of soybeans – has resulted in widespread unlabeled presence of GE materials in mainstream food products unbeknownst to the average consumer.” OTA Executive Director & CEO Christine Bushway says the alfalfa deregulation decision “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.”

For Stewart Doan's audio report on reactions, click HERE. 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. For details of the USDA deregulation plan, click HERE. Strong support comes from Sen. Dick Lugar.

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