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GE Alfalfa’s Devastating Environmental Impact Statement—and USDA Still Wants to Deregulate!

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AlfalfaThe USDA is ready to deregulate GE alfalfa, even though the EIS raises grave concerns. There’s still time to stop it—if we act quickly!

In April 2004, Monsanto and Forage Genetics International (FGI) requested non-regulated status of their GE alfalfa, genetically engineered to be resistant to herbicides containing glyphosate (including Monstanto’s Roundup®). The USDA granted their request. However, as we reported last June, the courts intervened and ordered the USDA to first conduct an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS.
This EIS was completed on December 16, 2010. The report considers three alternatives for GE Alfalfa: regulation, partial deregulation, and no regulation, and strongly recommends the latter two alternatives.
There is now a short period for public comment and review—until January 24th—which means we have a small window of opportunity to take action. After this, the USDA will choose one of the three alternatives.
The USDA’s concluding recommendations are not surprising given that the USDA was ready to grant deregulated status before the court intervened. They show the USDA’s strong bias, and that there is no oversight in the EIS process.
Monsanto and FGI are against regulating GE alfalfa because, they claim, it would greatly diminish production. This would cut into the huge profits from producing the GE version of alfalfa—which in its original form has for decades been used by farmers as livestock feed because of its high protein and low fiber content. Alfalfa ranks fourth on the list of the most widely grown crops, and is ranked third among agricultural crops in terms of value.
Monsanto needs this genetically engineered alfalfa mainly because several of its products contain glyphosate, which would be toxic to non-GE plants.
The facts are shocking and irrefutable. All of the quoted passages below are from the USDA’s just-completed Environmental Impact Statement, available for viewing on the USDA website:

  • Genetically engineered alfalfa will increase the use of herbicides containing the deadly toxin glyphosate: “The net effect on alfalfa production with the increased adoption and planting of GT [glyphosate-tolerant] alfalfa will likely be some increased use of the glyphosate with a decreased, an unchanged, or an increased use of herbicides.” (p. vii)
  • Glyphosate is highly toxic to plants and could affect plants close to the GE alfalfa: “Glyphosate exposure could occur through aerial drift, runoff of surface waters containing glyphosate, or leaching of glyphosate into drainage systems. Plants exposed to glyphosate via aerial drift might experience impaired germination or growth characteristics.” (p. vi)
  • As a “non-selective” herbicide, glyphosate kills almost all plant species when enough of it is applied (p. 3) and glyphosate is currently used to remove entire alfalfa fields (p. vii)
  • The only safeguard against misuse/overuse of glyphosate on the GE alfalfa are the labeled directions on the herbicide: “EPA has determined that there is no unreasonable environmental risk if the user adheres to the labeled directions.” (p. vi)
  • If the USDA confers non-regulated status, it would no longer require permits or notification of the introduction of the GE alfalfa (p. 10). Therefore there will be no oversight on the production or the long-term environmental impacts of GE alfalfa.
  • If GE alfalfa is unregulated, there is the risk on contamination with non GE crops: “Although the probability is low, GT alfalfa genes could be found in non-GT alfalfa at low levels. (p. v).
  • While the EIS states that there are no adverse effects of GE alfalfa on plants or humans, it recognizes that “unexpected and unintended compositional changes arise with all forms of genetic modification, including both conventional breeding and genetic engineering.” (p. 74) Furthermore, the report bases its safety data regarding allergenicity and toxicity on similar genetically engineered crops—but there is no evidence on the long-term allergenicity and toxicity impact of specifically GE alfalfa on humans and animals. (p. 175)

If the USDA deregulates GE alfalfa, it would set a dangerous precedent: the USDA is set to complete an Environmental Impact Statement on Roundup® Ready sugar beets. Since the issues involved are almost identical, the outcomes would likely be the same as well. Monsanto, the largest agribusiness company in the world, will rake in billions of dollars, at the expense of everyone’s health.

Remember, all public comment must be received by January 24 at the latest, so please take action now!


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