June 23, 2010 / 7:26 PM / 9 years ago

U.S. lawmakers ask USDA to deny biotech alfalfa

 * U.S. lawmakers call for continued ban on biotech alfalfa
 * Say USDA has "ignored" regulatory authority
 * Say U.S. organic dairy industry threatened
 By Carey Gillam
 KANSAS CITY, June 23 (Reuters) - More than 50 U.S.
lawmakers are calling on the U.S. Agriculture Department to
keep Monsanto's biotech alfalfa out of U.S. farm fields,
despite a Supreme Court ruling this week that cleared the way
for the government to allow at least limited planting pending
environmental reviews as Monsanto MON.N is seeking.
 "We believe that the broad regulatory authority available
to you has been ignored, in order to justify deregulation of a
biotech crop that has limited utility to anyone except the
manufacturer," the letter addressed to Agriculture Secretary
Thomas Vilsack said.
 U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, and Rep.
Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, were joined by 49 other
representatives and five other senators in asking Vilsack to
ensure that Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa is not
approved for commercial use.
 The alfalfa, which has been altered to tolerate Monsanto's
Roundup herbicide, and is known as "Roundup Ready" alfalfa, was
approved by USDA in 2005. But environmental groups and some
seed companies sued the USDA in 2006 and successfully forced
the agency to rescind its approval after a federal court found
USDA had violated environmental law by failing to do a thorough
environmental review before approving the product.
 That review still has not been completed, and USDA said it
expects to have one done by spring. But Monsanto is hoping the
agency will allow for earlier plantings at least on a limited
 The letter to Vilsack said that there is strong evidence
the biotech alfalfa can and will contaminate conventional
alfalfa fields, and could spell disaster for the organic dairy
industry by contaminating the feed fed to organic dairy cows.
 Organic dairy producers will suffer "significant economic
losses" if the USDA approves the product, the letter states.
 As well, U.S. alfalfa producers could lose an estimated
$197 million annually in lost sales to export markets that are
unfriendly to genetically modified crops, the letter states.
 Monsanto officials did not immediately comment.
 On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that a district court
judge in San Francisco had abused his discretion in barring the
U.S. Agriculture Department from effecting a partial
deregulation and in prohibiting the planting of the biotech
alfalfa seeds, pending the completion of an environmental
review. [ID:nN21252613]
 The ruling, however, did not alter the lower court decision
that vacated the U.S. Department of Agriculture's approval of
the genetically altered alfalfa until completion of a full
environmental review.
 Monsanto attorney Dave Snively said Monday the company
would work to "accelerate" USDA action to allow for expanded
alfalfa plantings even before the full environmental review is
 Andrew Kimbrell, a lawyer for the Center for Food Safety,
one of the plaintiffs in the alfalfa lawsuit, said USDA needed
to focus on the well being of U.S. consumers and agriculture,
and not Monsanto.
 "The USDA seems to be paying a lot more attention to the
short-term requirement of Monsanto rather than the long-term
welfare of farmers who could lose their livelihoods. Their job
is to protect U.S. agriculture, not to protect Monsanto. They
seem to have gotten it backwards," he said.
 (Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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