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GM alfalfa approval heads to U.S. court

(Reuters) — A public interest group is asking a court to force the United States Department of Agriculture to turn over documents explaining its approval of a genetically modified alfalfa even as the department acknowledged the crop’s potential to do environmental damage.

The Center for Food Safety said that it believes the USDA may have succumbed to outside pressure, possibly from Monsanto Co., the developer of the genetic trait in the biotech alfalfa.

CFS filed a lawsuit 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.

Neither the USDA nor Monsanto responded to requests for comment.

“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 Andrew Kimbrell, CFS executive director.

“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,” he said.

China’s beef trade goes underground

SINGAPORE/BEIJING (Reuters) — Industry sources estimate hundreds of thousands of tonnes of beef are being smuggled into China via neighbouring Hong Kong and Vietnam, sidestepping Beijing’s import curbs.

The massive, unofficial trade reflects China’s hunger for beef. Official imports quadrupled last year, as the growing ranks of the middle class demanded more high protein food, while the grey market could be more than double that size.

Beijing is expected to lift earlier mad cow-related curbs on Brazilian beef imports soon and to finalize a deal to allow in Indian buffalo meat as other import channels shrink.

China’s top supplier Australia, which accounted for about half of official imports last year, faces a slump in production due to drought.

Dow in sell-off phase

(Reuters) — Dow Chemical Co. said it aims to sell a further $1.5 billion to $2 billion US worth of assets as it looks to narrow its focus to electronics, agriculture and packaging.

Dow, which is seeking to lower its exposure to volatile commodity prices, now aims to raise $4.5 to $6 billion from asset sales by the end of 2015, chief executive officer Andrew Liveris said on a call to update shareholders on the company’s strategy.

The company is under pressure from hedge fund titan Daniel Loeb to spin off its lucrative but slow-growing petrochemical unit and focus on specialty materials.

No problem finding GMO-free soybeans

HAMBURG (Reuters) — Soybeans free of genetically modified organisms are available in growing volumes, despite claims by German poultry producers that supplies are falling, three associations that support GMO-free crops and trade said.

German poultry and egg producers said they had given up on a promise to consumers to avoid feeding birds with soy containing GMOs because of lower supplies of GMO-free soybeans, especially from Brazil.

“According to agricultural analysts from Brazil, the availability of GMO-free soybeans is increasing rapidly,” said the ProTerra Foundation, the Brazilian association of non-GMO grain producers ABRANGE, and VLOG, a German association for GMO-free food, in a joint statement.

“Compared to the previous season, this season Brazilian farmers produced 10 percent more non-GM soy,” ABRANGE managing director Ricardo Tatesuzi said. “Forecasts for the biggest soy-producing state, Mato Grosso, predict even an increase of 50 percent more over 2013.”

The export of Brazil’s 2014 soybean crop now being harvested, will involve shipping more non-GMO soybeans by container instead of in bulk carriers to reduce the risk of cross-contamination with remains of GMO crops previously shipped.

South Korea culls poultry

SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters) — South Korea has culled more than six percent of poultry in the country to curb a bird flu outbreak that has hit farms and migratory birds, government officials said.

That brings the number of farm birds slaughtered to 10.16 million, close to a record 10.2 million during an outbreak in 2008, according to data from the agriculture ministry.

No human infection has been reported, but a dog tested positive for bird flu antibodies, suggesting it had been exposed to the disease without being infected.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy has had four bird flu outbreaks in the past 10 years, without any cases of human infection reported.

Sales of chicken in one of Seoul’s largest markets dropped by more than half on average last month in the wake of the latest outbreak, according to a ministry official. No nationwide data is available.

South Korea’s first case of H5N8 bird flu — different from the strain that has caused human deaths elsewhere in Asia — was found Jan. 17 at a duck farm in North Jeolla province.

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