March 3 is the new deadline ending the public comment period for the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on Roundup Ready alfalfa, according to Mike Pina, spokesperson for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

A major snowstorm shut down Washington D.C. government offices, preventing the last of four public hearings from being held there on Tuesday, Feb. 9. The hearings’ purpose: To allow the public to discuss in person how well USDA’s APHIS did its job in evaluating Roundup Ready alfalfa.

The EIS concluded that there would be “no significant impact on the human environment due to granting non-regulated status to RR (Roundup Ready) alfalfa. The statement, made public on Dec. 14, also states that 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.”

The online comment docket now holds more than 1,700 comments on the transgenic crop from growers, industry representatives and others in the general public. In addition, the first three public hearings were held earlier this month at ag-related conferences in Nevada and Nebraska.

“The majority of people who spoke (at those hearings) were in favor of deregulation,” says Pina. The fourth public forum has been rescheduled to be held next week in Washington D.C., possibly Feb. 17, but that depends largely on the weather, he adds.

The EIS is the first such document prepared for a genetically engineered crop. It was mandated in spring 2007 after a federal judge ruled that USDA erred when it deregulated Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2005 without adequately documenting its environmental impacts. An injunction was issued to stop the sale of transgenic alfalfa seed until an EIS is completed.

When the public comment period concludes, APHIS will prepare a final EIS and Roundup Ready alfalfa seed sales may again be permitted. Seed marketers hope that will happen before late summer and fall 2010 seedings.

To review the draft EIS, visit tinyurl.com/RRAlfalfaEIS. To submit comments through March 3, go to tinyurl.com/RRComment.