The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided to fully deregulate alfalfa that has been genetically modified (GM) to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup-brand herbicide, the agency has said.
"After conducting a thorough and transparent examination of alfalfa through a multi-alternative environmental impact statement (EIS) and several public comment opportunities, APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
"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."
The case regarding deregulation of GM alfalfa has been watched carefully around the world as a potential bellwether for the GM industry. The decision to allow planting without any restrictions has been seen as a boon to the biotech industry – while opponents of the technology were disappointed.
Opponents include proponents of conventional, non-organic agriculture, but the organic industry has been one of the most vocal sectors in its opposition to deregulation of the crop, due to the potential for cross-contamination.
Executive director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association Christine Bushway said: “This 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.
“Preserving market and farmer choice and agricultural diversity are central to USDA’s mission and the future of rural American livelihoods. This failure to do so will make it increasingly difficult to meet the growing demand for US organic crops.”