For the first year, farmers can plant alfalfa with the Roundup Ready trait. However, the Western Organization for Resource Councils has joined a lawsuit filed in federal court challenging the federal governmentâ€™s approval of the commercial release of genetically modified alfalfa.
Both Pioneer and NK Brand have the biotech alfalfa traits available in the 2006 growing season. The forage produced from alfalfa with the Roundup Ready trait is comparable in composition, nutritional value and safety to that produced from conventional varieties. The single difference is that it is resistant to Roundup herbicide.
The suit calls USDAâ€™s decision to release the alfalfa to resist Roundup herbicide a threat to the livelihoods of farmers and a risk to the environment. The suit contends release of GM alfalfa would ultimately prevent farmers from growing conventional and organic varieties and endanger export markets. Pioneer says it will only market its GM alfalfa in the United States.
Organic growers say the introduction of GM alfalfa threatens their crops with contamination. Blaine Schmaltz, a Rugby, N.D., farmer and member of the Dakota Resource Council, says the introduction will require him to test his organic seed and hay sold to organic dairies and livestock growers on both ends, "adding barriers and expense."
The suit also says the release would likely increase use of pesticides and add to the growing problem of weeds resistant to glyphosate. A statement from WORC says recent reports have linked the increased use of Roundup Ready crops with the spread of weeds resistant to glyphosate. This resistance had led to more use of herbicides and forced farmers to use more toxic herbicides. The suit contends USDA did not address the potential impacts of the increased use of Roundup in alfalfa and did not address issues related to wild relatives of alfalfa.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in the Northern District of California calls on the court to rescind the deregulated status of Monsantoâ€™s Roundup Ready alfalfa, and says USDAâ€™s decision to approve the crop was â€œarbitrary and capricious.â€
â€œWe believe a more thorough review is necessary because even the USDAâ€™s own inspector general has questioned the departmentâ€™s oversight of genetically modified crops,â€ says Dean Hulse, WORC spokesperson from Fargo, N.D. â€œWe want USDA to conduct a full environmental impact statement on the release of genetically modified alfalfa and examine the costs to public health, the environment, and the economy.â€
USDA approved the release of GM alfalfa, the first commercial release of a perennial crop, on June 27, 2005.