There would be "no significant impact on the human environment due to granting non-regulated status to RR (Roundup Ready) alfalfa." That's a small part of USDA's summary of the long-awaited draft Roundup Ready alfalfa environmental impact statement (EIS), just made public.

Those who agree or disagree can make their feelings known during a 60-day public comment period on the EIS, which was required by federal court before Roundup Ready alfalfa can again be considered for deregulating.

In 2005, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) allowed the sale and planting o f the transgenic crop. But less than two years later, that decision was disputed in federal court and Roundup Ready alfalfa was pulled off the market until an EIS could be completed. More than another two years later, the draft EIS is available for review and comment by the public. After sorting through comments, USDA will prepare a final EIS later this year.

According to a friend-of-the-court brief submitted Dec. 8 as part of a petition to get the Roundup Ready alfalfa case reviewed by the Supreme Court, the lower court ruling, if left to stand, “could begin a wave of anti-biotechnology injunctions.” Such a wave would generate uncertainty in the agricultural biotechnology industry, throughout American agriculture and in the global food market, according to the brief, filed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the American Seed Trade Association.

Six days later, on Dec. 14, the EIS was made public. In it, the Environmental Protection Agency has determined that "there is no unreasonable environmental risk when using glyphosate when the user adheres to the label restrictions, as they are legally required to do."

Besides online and written comments, APHIS is also taking feedback on the EIS in four scheduled public meetings. Three will be held in conjunction with other meetings the week of Jan. 17, at the Western Alfalfa Seed Conference in Las Vegas, NV; and the week of Feb. 2 at both the Mid-America Alfalfa Expo in Kearney, NE, and the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society Annual Healthy Farms/Rural Advantage Conference in Lincoln, NE. APHIS will also hold a public meeting in the Washington D.C., area during the week of Feb. 8. Exact meeting dates and locations will be published in the Federal Register and posted at APHIS.

Comments received on or before Feb. 16 will be considered, USDA officials say. Anyone may comment by either of the following methods:

• Federal eRulemaking Portal: Submit or view comments and to view supporting and related materials available electronically. (Starting Dec. 16.)
• Postal Mail/Commercial Delivery: please send two copies of your comment to Docket No. APHIS-2007-0044, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. Please state that your comment refers to Docket No. APHIS-2007-0044.

Comments received will be posted on Regulations can be viewed at USDA, Room 1141, South Building, 14th St. and Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C., during business hours.

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