(Beyond Pesticides, December 17, 2009) Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced the availability of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that preliminarily concludes that there is no significant impact on the human environment due to granting nonregulated status to Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa. Much to the dismay of environmentalists, the draft EIS outlines plans to allow unlimited commercial planting of genetically-engineered (GE) alfalfa that is resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment and the integrity of organic food.
The agency prepared this draft EIS to comply with a February 2007 judgment and order by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in which Judge Charles R. Breyer found that USDA violated federal environmental law by failing to conduct an EIS on GE alfalfa seeds before deregulating them in 2005.
The lawsuit, originally brought on by The Center for Food Safety (CFS) and several other environmental and farming groups, including Beyond Pesticides and Sierra Club, led to a 2007 court order that the deregulation may have significant environmental impacts and issued a permanent order stating that the alfalfa is once again a regulated article. The court banned the planting of GE alfalfa until USDA completed a rigorous analysis of these impacts.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit twice affirmed the national ban on GE alfalfa planting, including earlier this year, determining that the planting of genetically modified alfalfa can result in potentially irreversible harm to organic and conventional varieties of crops, damage to the environment, and economic harm to farmers. Noting that contamination of natural and organic alfalfa by the GE variety has already occurred, Judge Breyer stated, “Such contamination is irreparable environmental harm. The contamination cannot be undone.”
“GE alfalfa threatens the very fabric of the organic industry. Organic consumers want seeds and products to not be polluted by GE,” explained George Siemon, one of the founding farmers and CEO of Organic Valley. “In order for dairy products to be marketed as organic, certified organic alfalfa must be used as forage. When contamination of GE alfalfa becomes widespread, organic dairy farmers will no longer be able to give that assurance.”
While USDA’s initial approval of GE alfalfa was found to violate environmental laws by failing to analyze risks such as the contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa and the development of “superweeds” that are resistant to glyphosate; USDA once again dismisses the potential that organic and conventional alfalfa will be endangered due to biological contamination in their court-ordered EIS.
“USDA’s announcement is simply business as usual, once again catering to Monsanto’s corporate interests at the expense of farmers and consumers,” stated Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of CFS. “This is a huge disappointment coming from the Obama administration, which has repeatedly claimed to support family farms and consumers’ right to know what’s in their food.”
This draft EIS ignores the new reports and studies that demonstrate the many environmental and health consequences that GE crops cause. Earlier this year, Beyond Pesticides, joined by 32 other groups and individuals, submitted comments to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) showing new and emerging science which illustrates that glyphosate and its formulated products pose unreasonable risk to human and environmental health, and as such should not be considered eligible for continued registration.
Glyphosate poses unacceptable risks to humans. Due to such widespread use of the weed killer glyphosate and the prevalent myth that it is harmless, it has been linked to acute human health effects such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Another recent study found that Roundup kills human embryonic cells. Glyphosate is also harmful to the environment, particularly aquatic life and water quality and has been linked to intersex frogs, and is lethal to amphibians in concentrations found in the environment.
Furthermore, despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, a report by Union of Concerned Scientists found that genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields. Increases over the last decade are largely due to traditional breeding and agricultural improvements. In fact, a report published last month found that the rapid adoption by U.S. farmers of genetically modified corn, soybeans and cotton has actually promoted increased use of pesticides, an epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds, and more chemical residues in foods.
TAKE ACTION! APHIS is seeking public comment on the draft EIS and will consider all public comments submitted during the 60-day public comment period starting tomorrow, December 18, 2009, before finalizing the EIS or making any decisions regarding the regulatory status of RR alfalfa. Comments may be submitted to regulations.gov on or before February 16, 2010.