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article imageMonsanto's GE alfalfa closer to U.S. approval & sales

By Stephanie Dearing     Mar 5, 2010 in Food
Canadian farmer and consumer groups responded to an invitation to comment on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement created by the United States Department of Agriculture. The seed was first approved in 2005.
Saskatoon, Sask. - Canadian groups submitted comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) completed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in hopes of dissuading approval of Monsanto's GE alfalfa.
The alfalfa, originally approved in 2005, was taken off the market by a court order after a coalition of groups took the USDA to court. The groups won a temporary ban of the release of the seed to the market, pending an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be prepared by the USDA.
Now that the USDA has prepared the court required Draft EIS, the public was allowed time to comment, although Wednesday was the last day for submissions.
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) issued a press release Wednesday to inform Canadians that at least three Canadian groups submitted "... highly critical analyses to the USDA. They argue that GE alfalfa plantings in the U.S. would contaminate Canadian alfalfa and cause serious harm to Canadian farmers and the environment."
CBAN said if the USDA disregarded opposition to the GE alfalfa, approval would likely be granted by the end of summer. GE alfalfa has not been approved for growing in Canada, but it has been cleared for import into the country. CBAN is urging support for a private member's bill, C-474, slated to be discussed in parliament in March because it "... would support Canadian farmers by requiring that “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.”
Determined to have the GE alfalfa on the American market in 2010, Monsanto appealed the court decision that suspended the 2005 approval of the GE alfalfa. The appeal is scheduled to be heard later this year. Monsanto's Alfalfa and Sugar Beet Lead, Stephen Welker said the company was appealing because "USDA's regulatory approval process was short-circuited without any hearing to consider the views of impacted farmers and consideration of sound science. We view the Supreme Court's action to hear our appeal as important for American farmers and look forward to presenting our case to the Supreme Court in the coming months. We believe alfalfa growers deserve choice in the products that are available to them."
Organic farmers in North America fear contamination of their crops by the GE alfalfa, as has recently occurred with Canadian flax. Should organic alfalfa become contaminated with GE alfalfa, organic farmers will be forced to stop growing alfalfa. Cathy Holslander, speaking for Beyond Factory Farming, said this would result in a "...severe shortage of feed for certified organic livestock and dairy cows."
Monsanto maintains its GE alfalfa will not cross-contaminate non-GE alfalfa. Monsanto provides the example of California farmer, Don Cameron as an example. Monsanto said Cameron "... grows a number of organic and biotech crops including organic and Roundup Ready alfalfa," citing Cameron as having said "Proper stewardship makes it possible to grow both organic and biotech crops. We've successfully accomplished this for nearly a decade on our operation and plan to continue."
Readers will be interested to note that Don Cameron is a manager of a large commercial agribusiness that mainly grows non-organic crops on thousands of acres. Terranova Ranch employs approximately 50 people, and generated over $3 million in revenues last year. In 2008, Cameron testified at a Domestic Policy Subcommittee Oversight & Government Reform Committee hearing examining costs to farmers caused by GE contamination of crops. During that testimony, he said 10% of Terranova's crops were organic. Speaking in favour of biotech seeds, Cameron said "... The trait we find most useful is the Roundup Ready trait, which allows plants to resist the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate). Why is this so important to us? Because the economic savings we realize through the use of the Roundup Ready system has been tremendous."
According to USDA definition, a farm is "any operation that sells at least one thousand dollars of agricultural commodities or that would have sold that amount of produce under normal circumstances."
San Fransisco Chronicle writer, Dave Stockdale said over 100 million acres in the United States are planted each year with genetically modified or engineered corn and soy beans. Genetically modified food plants now comprise about 70% of commercial food products in the United States.
The American Consumers Union opposes the release of GE alfalfa onto the market, saying "... Given the popularity of alfalfa sprouts among health-oriented eaters, Consumers Union urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to consider the overwhelming consumer concern before deciding to allow GE alfalfa on the market." Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with Consumers Union, criticized the USDA's Draft Environmental Impact Statement, saying "USDA's draft EIS is inadequate, leaving farmers and consumers unprotected. This alfalfa has been engineered to allow herbicides to be used on it that would normally kill the crop. The EIS states that consumers and organic farmers don't care if their organic food is GE contaminated. Consumers Union's poll states the exact opposite: consumers care greatly."
The Government of Alberta calls alfalfa the "Queen of forages." High in nutrients and widely grown as animal feed, alfalfa is also prized by farmers because it contributes to healthy soils. Alfalfa sprouts are power-houses of nutrients, making them popular for eating.
Monsanto enjoyed higher revenues in 2009, although its revenues from its trademark herbicide, Roundup, decreased. Because alfalfa is a major forage crop in North America, Monsanto stands to gain from increased sales of Roundup as well as the alfalfa seed.
The safety of the alfalfa, genetically engineered (GE) to tolerate Monsanto's trademark herbicide, Roundup, was not an issue for the USDA.
More about Alfalfa, Canadian environmental action network, United states department agriculture, Monsanto
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