Judge rejects challenge to biotech alfalfa

A federal judge has rejected allegations by biotech critics that USDA violated environmental laws by fully deregulating transgenic alfalfa.

U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti has refused to overturn the agency’s approval of the crop, which was genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate herbicides.

The Center for Food Safety and other critics claimed in its lawsuit that USDA failed to properly evaluate the potential for Roundup Ready alfalfa to cross-pollinate with conventional and organic crops.

The complaint also said the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service inadequately analyzed the potential for “super weeds,” which they said will develop as unwanted plants grow more resistant to glyphosate herbicides.

In his Dec. 5 ruling, Conti repeatedly said that arguments opposing the crop’s commercialization were unpersuasive, ruling that APHIS took the required “hard look” at transgenic alfalfa’s effects under federal environmental law.

“None of the purported deficiencies raised by plaintiffs in this area, considered independently or holistically, provide sufficient grounds to set aside APHIS’s deregulation determination,” he said.

George Kimbrell, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, said his group planned to challenge the ruling in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We disagree with it and will be appealing,” he said.

Roundup Ready alfalfa, developed by the Monsanto Co., was deregulated by the USDA a year ago after the agency completed a court-ordered environmental impact statement that reviewed the crop’s potential impacts.

The biotech trait allows farmers to spray glyphosate directly over alfalfa, leaving the crop undamaged while killing weeds.

The agency had previously allowed the crop to be cultivated without restriction in 2005 after completing a less comprehensive environmental analysis.

However, a federal judge found that assessment was insufficiently thorough and overturned the agency’s approval in 2007.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the judge’s decision to vacate USDA’s approval of the crop, though it did reverse a farther-reaching injunction the court had also imposed.

URL: http://www.capitalpress.com/newest/mp-alfalfa-ruling-011312