USDA pulled up over GM approval

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Genetic engineering, Genetically modified food, Monsanto

A Federal Court has ruled that the USDA failed to abide by federal
environmental laws when it approved a genetically engineered crop
without conducting a full Environment Impact Statement (EIS).

The Center for Food Safety reported that US district court judge Charles R. Breyer of the Northern District of California decided in favor of farmers, consumers, and environmentalists who filed a suit calling the USDA's approval of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa a threat to farmers' livelihoods and a risk to the environment. Judge Breyer ordered that a full Environmental Impact Statement be carried out on "Roundup Ready" alfalfa, the GM variety developed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics. The judge concluded that the lawsuit, brought last year by a coalition of groups led by the Center for Food Safety, raised concerns about environmental impacts that the USDA failed to address before approving the commercialization and release of Roundup Ready alfalfa. "This is a major victory for farmers and the environment,"​ said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. "Not only has a Federal Court recognized that USDA failed to consider the environmental and economic threats posed by GE alfalfa, but it has also questioned whether any agency in the federal government is looking at the cumulative impacts of GE crop approvals." ​ However, this is likely to be but a minor set-back for Monsanto. FoodNavigator-USA reported yesterday that the company was targeting the introduction of a higher-yield variety of genetically modified soybeans within the next few years. Monsanto's second generation Roundup RReady2Yield soybean​ is currently under review by the USDA, which has called for public comments after receiving a petition for deregulation of the variety. According to Monsanto's petition, its new soybean – MON 89788 – can improve crop yields by 4 to 7 percent, compared to Roundup Ready soybeans. Like the first generation product, the new variety is designed to tolerate Monsanto's herbicide Roundup. If approval is granted, Monsanto said it expects the new soybean variety to be commercially introduced in 2009. The second generation product would then replace the original Roundup Ready soybean, which would be gradually phased out. GM is increasingly being accepted globally. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) claims that new statistics show that in 2006 the number of hectares globally cultivated with GM crops increased by 12 million hectares. However, opponents of GM hope that the California case will nonetheless lead to greater regulation. "Today's ruling reinforces what Sierra Club has been saying all along: the government should look before it leaps and examine how genetically engineered alfalfa could harm the environment before approving its widespread use,"​ said Neil Carman of the Sierra Club's genetic engineering committee. "That's just plain common sense." ​ Alfalfa is grown on over 21 million acres, and is worth $8 billion per year (not including the value of final products, such as dairy), making it the country's third most valuable and fourth most widely grown crop.

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