Use of genetically modified alfalfa unnecessarily held hostage

Protecting the environment in the 21st century will require the adoption of sophisticated agricultural technologies including biotechnology and genetically modified crops, according to a study by the Royal Society, England's most prestigious scientific body.
That's welcome news for America's farmers and consumers. For most of the last two decades the United States has been the undisputed leader in the development and adoption of biotech crops, says Gregory Conko, a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Ironically, as an increasing number of farmers in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America take up these innovative varieties, burdensome regulations here at home have raised development and approval costs and kept many potentially important products from reaching the market, says Conko:
  • Two years ago a group of activists and farmers sued the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), claiming the department's scientists didn't follow, to the letter, a law called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when they approved a biotech crop called Roundup Ready alfalfa.
  • Roughly 5,500 farmers in 48 states have planted more than a quarter million acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa, which has been modified to resist an herbicide called glyphosate.
  • But a federal district judge in San Francisco determined that new seeds can't be sold until USDA completed an environmental impact assessment as required by NEPA.
    Fortunately, Roundup Ready alfalfa seed should soon be available again, says Conko:
  • The USDA issued its environmental impact statement (EIS) in December, and it states unequivocally that biotech and conventional alfalfa can co-exist peacefully.
  • Furthermore, because glyphosate is not harmful to anything but plants and biodegrades quickly once it's sprayed, the Environmental Defense Fund calls it among the most ecologically benign herbicides ever developed.
  • Merely switching from older herbicides to glyphosate yields substantial environmental benefits.
    Nonetheless, the Center for Food Safety has launched a campaign to continue delaying the use of Roundup Ready Alfalfa by submitting anti-biotech comments on the environmental impact statement to the USDA. It has become clear that crop biotechnology holds substantial promise for improving the foods we eat and lightening agriculture's environmental footprint. It's a shame that farmers' ability to use this sophisticated tool is being held hostage by a perverse campaign that exploits loopholes for political gain, says Conko.
    Source: Gregory Conko, "Use of Genetically Modified Alfalfa Unnecessarily Held Hostage," Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, February 9, 2010.

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    First published by the National Center for Policy Analysis

    FMF Policy Bulletin / 16 February 2010
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