USDA Clears Planting of GM Alfalfa

by | Jan 31, 2011

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa, rejecting regulations that the department proposed last month.

The USDA has decided not to regulate alfalfa that has been genetically modified (GM) to be resistant to the Roundup herbicide, made by Monsanto, which also makes the Roundup Ready GM alfalfa.

Last month the USDA signalled that it might approve GM alfalfa with certain restrictions, but the plan approved Thursday contained no such conditions, Reuters said.

The USD had posed three possible routes: maintaining current regulation, introducing a limited regulation strategy with bans on planting GM alfalfa seeds in seed-growing regions, and full deregulation, Sustainable Business reports.

The agency chose total deregulation, SB said.

The decision has been made in time to allow farmers to begin planting genetically modified alfalfa this spring, the Wall Street Journal says.

“This is great news for farmers who have been waiting for the green light to plant Roundup Ready alfalfa,” said Steve Welker, alfalfa commercial lead at Monsanto.

Alfalfa is the fourth-biggest U.S. crop by acreage, the WSJ said, raised as hay on about 20 million acres. About 250,000 acres of this, or one percent, is organic.

The vast majority of the country’s corn, cotton and soybeans are genetically modified, the WSJ said.

“A lot of people are shell shocked,” said Christine Bushway, chief executive officer of the Organic Trade Association. “While we feel Secretary Vilsack worked on this issue, which is progress, this decision puts our organic farmers at risk.”

Opponents say biotech alfalfa can contaminate organic crops, and that the increased use of herbicide can strengthen weeds’ resistance to such substances.

The USDA is expected to decide next week whether it will issue an approval for genetically modified sugar beets in time for this year’s planting, the WSJ says.

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