Genetically engineered alfalfa was back in the news last week on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
At a hearing in San Francisco, lawyers for environmental groups told a three-judge, U.S. Court of Appeals panel that Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA) should be taken off the market. Its alleged argument: That USDA had not properly considered how the transgenic crop affects endangered plants and animals.
“(RRA) will result in substantial harm,” George Kimbrell, an attorney for Center for Food Safety, told the judges. He also stated that genetically engineered alfalfa would “cause the loss of millions of dollars of export fees” and that USDA’s decision to deregulate RRA basically nullifies federal laws aimed at protecting endangered species and guarding the environment against noxious weeds.
Lawyers for the government countered that USDA was correct in determining that alfalfa is no different from any other alfalfa and doesn’t pose any danger to other plants. “The plaintiffs are confusing plant pests with things that are not pests,” said Dana Kaersvang, a Justice Department attorney.
In Canada, about 100 people gathered in Kitchener, Ontario, on Oct. 24 to protest the introduction of genetically modified alfalfa in the country.
According to various press reports in Canadian newspapers, the protesters are mostly concerned about cross-pollination of organic and modified crops.
“It is to some extent about money, but it’s more an issue of principles,” Ann Slater, a coordinator for the National Farmers Union of Ontario, told the Waterloo-Wellington Record.
A spokesperson for Monsanto Co. responded that genetically modified crops have been in Canada since 1996 and that 95% of the canola grown in the country is genetically modified. “That’s largely driven by the demand from farmers,” the Monsanto spokesman said. “That’s what farmers are asking for.”
The Ontario protest was timed to coincide with a meeting of the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) in Kitchener. The association is made up of about 130 seed companies from across Canada, including those who produce traditional, organic and genetically modified seeds for more than 50 different crops.
Stephen Denys, CSTA president, says his group is developing a coexistence plan all members can agree on before genetically engineered alfalfa seeds are introduced in Ontario. Cross-pollination should not be a big concern in Ontario, Denys says, because most alfalfa is grown for hay and harvested before it flowers.