Vilsack’s call comes after another year of litigation involving the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), in which the Center for Food Safety among others won federal court cases banning the planting of GM alfalfa and GM sugar beets, both supplied by Monsanto. The Supreme Court allowed continued planting of GM alfalfa while the USDA prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which it completed in mid-December, following years of litigation.
And a federal court in San Francisco has ordered that GM sugar beets be uprooted on similar grounds, although a court of appeals decision has delayed their destruction until March at least.
Vilsack said in the letter that he is confident in the USDA’s regulatory system for approving crop safety, saying that its decisions are science-based and “science strongly supports the safety of GE alfalfa” – although he also acknowledged that farmers of non-GM alfalfa have legitimate concerns about cross-pollination.
“Litigation will potentially lead to the courts deciding who gets to farm their way and who will be prevented from doing so,” he wrote. “Regrettably, what the criticism we have received on our GE alfalfa approach suggests, is how comfortable we have become with litigation – with one side winning and one side losing – and how difficult it is to pursue compromise.
“Surely, there is a better way, a solution that acknowledges agriculture's complexity, while celebrating and promoting its diversity. By continuing to bring stakeholders together in an attempt to find common ground where the balanced interests of all sides could be advanced, we at USDA are striving to lead an effort to forge a new paradigm based on coexistence and cooperation. If successful, this effort can ensure that all forms of agriculture thrive so that food can remain abundant, affordable, and safe.”
Science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety Bill Freese told FoodNavigator-USA.com that he was impressed by what he sees as Vilsack’s genuine concern for farmers, but said GM and non-GM crop coexistence is particularly difficult for alfalfa.
“Everyone sounds reasonable but when push comes to shove, if there’s no liability, it’s just words,” Freese said.