USDA says GMO alfalfa OK for unrestricted planting

KANSAS CITY/WASHINGTON, Jan 27 (Reuters) - The U.S. agriculture officials on Thursday said U.S. farmers could proceed with planting genetically altered alfalfa without the restrictions opponents say are needed to protect conventional and organic farm fields from contamination.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the decision was made after analysis of various economic and environmental factors, and allows GMO farmers to get their crop in the ground this spring.

Vilsack said the decision applies only to the biotech alfalfa, known as Roundup Ready, because it was engineered by Monsanto MON.N to withstand treatments of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

The department is facing similar questions about biotech sugar beets, and an announcement regarding that crop is expected next week, Vilsack said. (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Chuck Abbott in Washington; Editing by Neil Stempleman)