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USDA gets ruling on biotech alfalfa correct

January 28, 2011

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it will fully deregulate the planting of RoundUp Ready Alfalfa, it reaffirmed a science-based approach to agricultural biotechnology.

 “After conducting a thorough and transparent examination of alfalfa through a multi-alternative environmental impact statement (EIS) and several public comment opportunities, APHIS has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

The stunning decision punctuates a comprehensive review that determined biotech alfalfa does not pose a plant pest risk to non-GMO or organic varieties.   Biotechnology Industry Organization CEO Jim Greenwood applauded USDA for standing on two decades of regulatory precedent, restoring the principle of farmer choice and allowing farmers to sow RR alfalfa seeds this spring.

“The innovations brought about by agricultural biotechnology over the years allow growers to produce more food, feed and fiber on less land, often with significant environmental benefits.  Biotechnology can help crops thrive in drought-prone areas, can improve the nutrition content of foods, can grow alternative energy sources and can improve the lives of farmers and rural communities around the globe.  

The decision comes a week after President Obama’s executive order on regulatory review and days after his State of Union call to “reduce barriers to growth and investment.”   

Secretary Vilsack’s announcement also comes just days after a hastily assembled House Agriculture committee meeting where members uniformly expressed deep concerns about the potential for planting restrictions in the name of “coexistence.”

15th District Congressman Tim Johnson, the new chairman of the Rural Development, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture subcommittee, warned Secretary Vilsack that USDA appeared to be headed down a regulatory path that would have “dramatic, staggering impacts on American agriculture.”

In the lead up to the decision, Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson expressed IFB’s concerns last Friday about the potential impact of regulation on future GM corn and soybean varieties.

We have been operating in this country with both GM and non-GM crops growing in close proximity for more than a decade now.  It is one of USDA’s and U.S. agriculture’s proudest and most respected positions that we have held true to for more than a decade.   However, if USDA goes ahead with planting restrictions on GM alfalfa in the name of “co-existence,”  it  will pose a challenge for U.S. agriculture to maintain our competitive advantage and continue to serve our billions of consumers worldwide.  Unfortunately, it will also signal that USDA’s hard fought battles of the past are being ignored in favor of misinformed consumer beliefs that are neither scientific nor based in economic reality.

On this Friday, IFB thanks members of the Ag Committee for stepping up and Secretary Vilsack for making a correct and welcome decision.

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