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[SANET-MG] farmers and friends sue over alfalfa
Farmers, Others Sue USDA over Monsanto GMO Alfalfa
February 17, 2006 — By Carey Gillam, Reuters
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A coalition of farmers, consumers and environmental
activists Thursday sued the U.S. government over its approval of a
biotech alfalfa that critics say will spell havoc for farmers and the
Opening another front in the battle over genetically modified crops, the
lawsuit contends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture improperly is
allowing Monsanto Co. to sell an herbicide-resistant alfalfa seed while
failing to analyze the public health, environmental, and economic
consequences of that action.
"The USDA failed to do a full environmental review when they deregulated
this genetically engineered alfalfa," said Will Rastov, an attorney for
Center for Food Safety, one of the plaintiffs. "They're going to wreak
untold dangers into the environment."
The lawsuit asks the federal court in San Francisco to rescind the
USDA's decision until a full environmental review has been completed.
The suit asserts that the genetically modified alfalfa will probably
contaminate conventionally grown alfalfa at a fast pace, ultimately
forcing farmers to pay for Monsanto's patented gene technology whether
they want the technology or not.
The group says biotech alfalfa would also hurt production of organic
dairy and beef products as alfalfa is a key cattle feed. And the suit
claims farmers could lose export business, valued at an estimated $480
million per year, because buyers in Japan and South Korea, major
importers of U.S. alfalfa, have indicated they would avoid buying U.S.
alfalfa once the genetically engineered variety is released.
Plaintiffs also said Monsanto is marketing the herbicide-tolerant crop
in a way that encourages far greater applications of chemicals than
alfalfa typically requires.
Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States,
behind corn, soybeans, and wheat.
South Dakota alfalfa farmer Pat Trask, one of the plaintiffs, said
Monsanto's biotech alfalfa would ruin his conventional alfalfa seed
business because it was certain his 9,000 acres would be contaminated by
the biotech genes.
Alfalfa is very easily cross-pollinated by bees and by wind. The plant
is also perennial, meaning GMO plants could live on for years.
"The way this spreads so far and wide, it will eliminate the
conventional alfalfa industry," said Trask. "Monsanto will own the
entire alfalfa industry."
Monsanto has a policy of filing lawsuits or taking other legal actions
against farmers who harvest crops that show the presence of the
company's patented gene technology. It has sued farmers even when they
have tried to keep their own fields free from contamination by biotech
plants on neighboring farms.
"It's the desire of Monsanto to pursue global control and total control
over the American alfalfa seed industry," said Trask.
Monsanto spokeswoman Mica DeLong said the company had no comment on the
issue and referred inquires to USDA. Monsanto received regulatory
clearance to begin selling the biotech alfalfa last summer.
The suit names Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Animal Plant
Health Inspection Service Administrator Ron Dehaven and Environmental
Protection Agency administrator Steve Johnson as defendants.
APHIS spokeswoman Karen Eggert said the agency had no immediate comment.
EPA also declined to comment and a spokeswoman for USDA could not be
In addition to the Center for Food Safety and the Trask family, the
plaintiffs include the National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club,
Dakota Resources Council, and other farm, environmental and consumer
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