In late April, a U.S. District Court judge in California dropped a permanent injunction on the marketing and planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed. Reason: Judge Charles Breyer ruled that U.S. Department of Agriculture didn't follow procedural rules before deregulating the genetically engineered alfalfa. He specified that USDA must complete an Environmental Impact Statement beforehand.
Nationwide, some 76 growers were contracted to produce the alfalfa seed. If farmers have unplanted RR alfalfa seed, it can likely be returned up the dealership chain to Forage Genetics, the license holder.
The court recognized the slowness of the judicial process, and presumed that the first cutting would be harvested before Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the regulating agency, could notify all growers of potential restrictions. APHIS was required to notify growers within 45 days - no later than June 17. Before notification, no harvesting or marketing restrictions were in effect.
What can and can't be done
Forage Genetics and Monsanto officials expect APHIS to exactly follow Judge Breyer's mandates. Here's what he specified:
Grower contracts for producing RR alfalfa seed will be honored. As the judge said, "The financial burden to these farmers of an injunction preventing them from fulfilling their contracts outweighs the harm to the human environment in these limited circumstances."
No isolation distances will be imposed to minimize risk of gene flow from already-planted genetically engineered alfalfa to organic and conventional
Pollinators (bees) cannot be added to those fields grown only for hay production.
Farm equipment used in those alfalfa production fields must be properly cleaned after use. That includes harvesting equipment, tractors and tillage equipment. The intent is to minimize risk of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed and hay movement from authorized production sites.
RR alfalfa must be handled and clearly identified to minimize commingling after harvest. And, the harvested hay must be stored in specifically designated, labeled containers.
Forage Genetics already has GPS locations of all seed fields in the western states. RR alfalfa planted in all other states is being gathered as well. APHIS was ordered to make those locations publicly available at its Web site. That way, organic and conventional alfalfa growers know if they need to test their own crops for contamination. To date, that information has not been posted.