Friday, December 17, 2010

USDA considers policy change on genetically engineered alfalfa by adding geographic limits

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering a shift in its policy by imposing geographic limits on where genetically engineered alfalfa can be grown. "Farmers who grow conventional or organic alfalfa went to court to block sales of Monsanto Co.’s biotech alfalfa because of concerns that it would contaminate seed supplies," Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports on the Green Fields blog. "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has been criticized by anti-biotech activists who claim he’s too close to Monsanto and other biotech companies, says his department needs to start taking into consideration the impact that genetically engineered crops can have on non-biotech farmers."

"We see a key role for each of the sectors in meeting our global and domestic food needs, in increasing sustainability and in enhancing farm profitability and in economic development," Vilsack told Brasher, adding that biotech and non-biotech sectors need to "thrive together." USDA's alfalfa environmental impact statement lays out two options for the genetically engineered crop: "deregulate it completely so that it can be grown anywhere or impose geographic restrictions and isolation requirements for the crop," Brasher writes. "Restrictions would be tighter in the western states that are the biggest seed producers. Growers of the biotech seed would be required to keep fields five miles away from conventional alfalfa."

Organic farmers have voiced similar cross-pollination fears about genetically engineered corn, but Vilsack said any decision on alfalfa would not affect crops that have already been deregulated. The Organic Trade Association said the biotech policy shift was an "important first step," and the group looks forward to policy development discussions aimed at protecting "all producers from market losses" due to biotech crops. The Biotechnology Industry Organization countered that "the restrictions being considered for alfalfa weren’t needed and would set a bad precedent," Brasher writes. (Read more)

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