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Court of Appeals upholds Roundup Ready alfalfa ban

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday upheld a ban on all planting of genetically engineered Roundup Ready alfalfa.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service failed to conduct an environmental-impact study before Monsanto, the makers of Roundup Ready Alfalfa, released its product to the marketplace. The ban is now firmly in place until the APHIS finishes a full EIS, which could take months.

Shortly after Roundup Ready Alfalfa was approved for use in 2005, the Center for Food Safety and a number of plaintiffs filed the lawsuit against the USDA, citing the absence of an EIS. The Monsanto Company and Forage Genetics entered into the suit as "Defendant-Intervenors" because the suit involved the future of their product.

In May 2007, California District Court Judge Charles Breyer first imposed the ban on Roundup Ready alfalfa, claiming the USDA did not adequately address concerns that the genetically engineered alfalfa would contaminate organic, as well as conventional alfalfa crops. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling in September 2008, and the USDA got busy on the EIS. Monsanto and Forage Genetics moved forward and appealed the ruling on their own, culminating in Wednesday's decision.

"The decision yesterday was a major victory for conventional and organic farming, and the environment," George Kimbrell, lawyer for the Center for Food Safety, said Thursday. "It protects farmers to sow the crops of their choice and consumers to have the food of their choice. This is the end of the road. Monsanto can take it to the Supreme Court, but we're … not worried about it."

Monsanto does have the option of taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but company spokesman Garrett Kasper said Monsanto officials have not made any decisions on how they will proceed.

"[We] are looking at all our options," Kasper said. "We just got the [ruling] yesterday, so there are decisions to be made. The environmental impact statement is still pending and we understand it's in the final stages of the draft, and we hope the public comment period will be announced soon, so people can comment and protect their freedom to choose biotech products."

Under law, the USDA must accept public comment and prepare answers to questions and comments before approving or denying the planting of genetically engineered crops.

Those opposed to genetically engineered crops, including the co-plaintiffs in this case—the Western Organization of Resource Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, Dakota Resource Council, Trask Family Seeds and the Geertson Seed Farms—claim genetically modified organisms have the ability to contaminate organic fields and encourage the rise of Roundup herbicide-resistant weeds


"Resistance is extremely rare," Kasper countered. "Not all herbicides work the same, and Roundup has a very unique mode of action, so we're looking at a period of 30 years and very few weed sources that developed a resistance. When someone mentions that, we take it very seriously and respond accordingly."

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