USDA today announced the availability of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) that evaluates the potential environmental effects of deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa.

“Our goal with the EIS, first and foremost, is to recognize and consider the many concerns that we have heard from all segments of agriculture,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “We are equally committed to finding solutions that support, not only the developers and users of biotechnology products, but growers who rely on purity in the non-genetically engineered seed supply.”

He said USDA considered three alternatives during the preparation of the 2,300-page document: 1) maintain Roundup Ready alfalfa’s status as a regulated crop, 2) deregulate it, or 3) impose geographic restrictions on the production of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed and, in some locations, Roundup Ready hay. After thoroughly analyzing the potential environmental impacts of the three alternatives, the agency listed the second and third options as preferred.

USDA maintains that biotechnology holds great promise for agriculture in the U.S. and around the world. There’s no doubt of the safety of the many products USDA’s regulatory system has approved. The examination of these issues through the EIS process, however, highlighted some of the challenges USDA faces in the area of biotechnology regulation as it aims to meet the expectations of its diverse stakeholders.

“We have seen rapid adoption of biotechnology in agriculture, along with the rise of organic and non-genetically engineered sectors over the last several decades,” Vilsack said. “While the growth in all these areas is great for agriculture, it has also led, at times, to conflict or, at best, an uneasy coexistence between the different ways of growing crops. We need to address these challenges and develop a sensible path forward for strengthening coexistence of all segments of agriculture in our country. All are vital and a part of rural America’s success. All should be able to thrive together.”

He said USDA will use this opportunity to begin a conversation on how to move forward and find strategies for strengthening coexistence. “We will partner with all those who want to roll up their sleeves and work with us and each other to find commonsense solutions to today’s challenges. And we will do so openly and transparently.”

The final EIS will be available for public review for at least 30 days before USDA makes a final decision on how it will proceed. The EIS will be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA anticipates it will be published in the Federal Register on Dec. 23. A copy of the EIS can be reviewed at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/downloads/alfalfa/gt_alfalfa%20_feis.pdf.