March 12, 2007 / 10:55 PM / in 12 years

U.S. judge halts sales of Monsanto GMO alfalfa

KANSAS City, Mo., March 12 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday issued a preliminary injunction banning the sale of Monsanto Co.’s MON.N genetically modified alfalfa and any planting of the seed after March 30.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer of the Northern District of California granted the injunction at the request of a group of farmers, environmentalists and consumer activists who have alleged the biotech alfalfa could be destructive to both the economy and the environment.

The decision marked the first time a federal court has overturned a USDA approval of a biotech seed and halted planting, according to The Center for Food Safety, among the groups seeking the injunction.

The judge’s order vacates the USDA’s 2005 approval of Monsanto’s alfalfa, which has been genetically modified to withstand spraying of the company’s Roundup herbicide. The order called for an immediate halt to sales of the specialty seed.

The court ruling specifically does not prohibit growers from “harvesting, using, or selling” any Roundup Ready alfalfa that has already been planted. But the judge said seed sales are now banned and farmers who already have seed are only allowed until March 30 to plant.

The injunction follows Judge Breyer’s decision last month that found that USDA was “cavalier” in its approval of Monsanto’s alfalfa and that it violated national environmental laws by approving the genetically altered alfalfa without a full environmental impact statement.

“We’re taking the judge’s orders seriously and we will comply with the requirement that we notify the Roundup Ready alfalfa sellers and growers that no Roundup Ready alfalfa seed can be planted after March 30th,” said Rachel Iadicicco, a spokeswoman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

‘PLEASED’ WITH THE HALT TO SALES

Monsanto defended the product.

“The extensive regulatory dossier for Roundup Ready alfalfa, combined with farmer stewardship agreements, provides a robust and responsible approach to managing the environmental questions raised by the plaintiffs in this case,” said Jerry Steiner, executive vice president for Monsanto, in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed by The Center for Food Safety, representing itself and several other groups, including the National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Trask Family Seeds, and Geertson Seed Farms, among others.

The plaintiffs said the biotech alfalfa could create super weeds resistant to herbicide, cause farmers to lose export business, and contaminate natural and organic alfalfa.

They also alleged that contamination of conventionally grown alfalfa could force farmers to pay for Monsanto’s patented gene technology whether they wanted it or not.

“We are pleased that the judge called for halt to sales of this potentially damaging crop,” said Will Rostov, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, in a statement. “Roundup Ready alfalfa poses threats to farmers, to our export markets, and to the environment. We expect the USDA to abide by the law and give these harmful effects of the crop full consideration.”

Judge Breyer has set a hearing for April 27 on the groups’ request for a permanent injunction.

Alfalfa, a perennial fodder crop cross-pollinated by bees and wind, is among the most widely grown crops in the United States, along with corn, soybeans, and wheat. (Additional reporting by Chris Doering in Washington)

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