The lengthy legal battle over genetically modified alfalfa will go yet another round.
On Friday, the Center for Food Safety, a group critical of genetically modified crops, sued federal regulators, alleging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent approval of genetically modified alfalfa was illegal. The center alleges the approval is based on faulty information, and that genetically modified alfalfa will damage the organic industry because it could contaminate conventional or organic alfalfa. The alfalfa, developed by Monsanto, is engineered to withstand applications of the herbicide Roundup, which kills weeds but not the crop.
The suit was filed in federal court in San Francisco.
Plaintiffs include a coalition of farmers, including dairy farmers who say they could lose the primary forage for their dairy cows if organic alfalfa is contaminated. To maintain organic standards, dairy cows have to eat organically grown hay.
“Approving the unrestricted planting of GE alfalfa is a blatant case of the USDA serving one form of agriculture at the expense of others,” said plaintiff Ed Maltby, head of the Northeast Alliance of Organic Dairy Producers.
Monsanto issued a statement late Friday saying: “We are aware that CFS has filed yet another lawsuit, and we will be reviewing allegations. In late January, the USDA authorized planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa after preparing an extensive Environmental Impact Statement, providing several public comment opportunities and determining that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as conventional alfalfa.”
The Agriculture Department initially approved the alfalfa in 2005, but the Center for Food Safety challenged the decision, saying regulators had not performed adequate environmental reviews. A federal judge agreed and banned further planting.
Ultimately, Monsanto took the case to the Supreme Court, which lifted the ban last year. The court said, however, that the department would have to complete an environmental impact statement.
The statement was finished in December, and last month the Agriculture Department said it would “deregulate” modified alfalfa, meaning it can be grown without any government-imposed restrictions.
The impact statement, critics pointed out, cites evidence of cross-contamination. Seed scientists have since said that more contamination is inevitable.