From: Carey Gillam, Reuters
Published February 15, 2007 12:00 AM

USDA Criticized by Second Judge Over Genetic Crops

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Biotech crop critics celebrated Wednesday the second court ruling this month to find the U.S. Department of Agriculture acted improperly in advancing certain genetically altered crops, both of which are tied to biotech giant Monsanto Co.

"This is another nail in the coffin for USDA's hands-off approach to regulations on these risky engineered crops," Will Rostov, senior attorney for The Center for Food Safety, said in a statement.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer of the Northern District of California in San Francisco criticized the USDA on Tuesday as "cavalier" and said the department violated the law by failing to adequately assess possible environmental impacts before approving genetically engineered alfalfa developed by Monsanto.

Roundup Ready Alfalfa allows growers to use Monsanto's Roundup herbicide to kill competing weeds without damaging the alfalfa, a key fodder crop.

A coalition of farmers, consumers, and environmentalists, led by the Center for Food Safety filed suit last year, alleging biotech alfalfa could create super weeds resistant to herbicide, hurt production of organic dairy and beef products, and could cause farmers to lose export business due to risks of contamination to natural and organic alfalfa.

The suit 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.

Alfalfa, a perennial plant cross-pollinated by bees and wind, is among the most widely grown crops in the United States, along with corn, soybeans, and wheat.

Judge Breyer said the parties in the case should propose remedies to him by Feb. 26. Rostov said the plaintiffs would ask the court for an injunction against future seed sales or plantings of the biotech alfalfa.

The defendants in the case are Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Administrator Ron Dehaven and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Steve Johnson.

Monsanto, which is not a named defendant, said it disagreed with the alfalfa finding.

"Monsanto stands behind the human health and environmental safety of Roundup Ready Alfalfa," spokeswoman Lori Fisher said. "Numerous regulatory agencies around the world, including Canada, have confirmed the environmental safety of Roundup Ready alfalfa. We are currently reviewing our legal options regarding this matter."

A spokeswoman for APHIS said the service was examining both court rulings. "We are very committed to protecting the environment and we do take compliance with environmental regulations seriously," said Rachel Iadicicco.

The ruling on alfalfa follows a Feb. 5 court ruling that was also critical of the USDA. That case involves field tests approved for bentgrass genetically modified to resist Monsanto's Roundup herbicide in a collaboration between Monsanto and The Scotts Co. Bentgrass is commonly used on lawns, athletic fields and golf courses.

U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy for the District of Columbia said there is "substantial evidence that the field tests may have had the potential to affect significantly the quality of the human environment." He said USDA could not process any further field test permits without conducting a more thorough review.

Kennedy said USDA's APHIS failed to adequately consider whether the field tests could harm the environment.

Source: Reuters

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