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Published March 29, 2011, 11:34 AM

ND group a plaintiff in GM alfalfa suit

DICKINSON, N.D. — The Dakota Resource Council in North Dakota has joined a March 18 lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to allow unrestricted planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

DICKINSON, N.D. — The Dakota Resource Council in North Dakota has joined a March 18 lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to allow unrestricted planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

“USDA’s decision to approve genetically modified alfalfa puts corporate interests ahead of those farmers and consumers,” says Todd Leake, an Emerado, N.D., farmer and DRC leader. “GM alfalfa will contaminate non-GM alfalfa crops, threaten the livelihoods of farmers and limit consumers’ food choices. USDA has acknowledged these problems but has done nothing to fix them.”

Abandoning alfalfa

Blaine Schmaltz of Blaine’s Best Seeds, Rugby, N.D., who markets seed for organic growers, says he’s had to abandon alfalfa because of the threat of contamination. Schmaltz says he quit raising alfalfa seed because he thought contamination was likely and that he couldn’t afford to be stuck with inventory he couldn’t sell.

Canadian scientists found genetically modified alfalfa “outcrossings” occurred in 22 percent of seed production fields and at a 15 percent level at hay production fields at a distance of one kilometer, or .62 miles.

The Canadians also found that genetically modified alalfa outcrossings to “feral alfalfa” took place at 92 percent level at 230 meters, according to the DRC. Alfalfa is pollinated by bees that can fly and cross-pollinate between fields and feral sources many miles apart, plaintiffs say.

Controlling the spread

The Canadian scientists say the “complete confinement” of GM alfalfa would be “very difficult” once a trait escapes into the environment and that “retraction of the trait will be unlikely.”

The Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of organic farmers, dairies and agricultural associations and environmental consumer groups.

This is the second case on the alfalfa issue. In 2007, in another case on the same topic by CFS, a federal court ruled that the USDA’s approval violated environmental laws by failing to analyze risks. The case resulted in USDA undertaking a four-year study under the National Environmental Policy Act. The court required an Environmental Impact Statement in more than 15 years of approving transgenic crops for commercial production.

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