GM alfalfa approval protested

Court order sought | Group wants details on USDA approval

(Reuters) — A public interest group is asking a court to force the U.S. Department of Agriculture to turn over documents explaining its approval of a genetically modified alfalfa variety.

The Center for Food Safety said it believes the USDA may have succumbed to outside pressure, possibly from Monsanto, which developed the genetic trait in the variety.

CFS filed a lawsuit March 11 in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., seeking a court order for the USDA to turn over nearly 1,200 documents related to the decision about Roundup Ready alfalfa.

“USDA determined Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa posed significant environmental and economic harms and initially proposed placing restrictions on it. Yet the agency went ahead and granted full unrestricted approval one month later,” said CFS executive director Andrew Kimbrell.

“Did the White House intervene? Did Monsanto pressure the agency? The fact is we don’t know, and unless the court orders USDA to hand over these documents we may never know.”

The USDA approved Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2011 without restrictions after several years of litigation and complaints by critics derailed its initial approval in 2005.

Court orders forced the department to prepare an environmental impact statement required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The department completed the environmental impact statement and proposed, as one possibility, approving the variety with some restrictions to try to mitigate the risk of contaminating non-GM crops.

However, it eventually approved the crop without such restrictions.

Alfalfa is the fourth-most widely grown U.S. field crop, behind corn, wheat and soybeans, and is used as livestock feed. The crop, worth $8 billion, was grown on more than 17 million U.S. acres in 2012.

CFS said it filed a freedom of information request in 2011 seeking documents that might explain why the USDA made its decision. The department has turned over 2,520 documents, but has said there are 1,179 others it cannot provide because of exemptions, the CFS lawsuit said.

Opponents had warned for more than a decade that it would be almost impossible to keep GM alfalfa from mixing with conventional alfalfa because alfalfa is a perennial crop largely pollinated by honeybees. Cross-fertilization could devastate conventional and organic growers’ businesses, the critics said.

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