Flap Over Roundup-Ready Alfalfa Could Last For Years

Kalamazoo GazetteOne of the first things I like to do when I react to a development of some kind is to check around to determine whether I`m all alone. Sometimes I am alone, but often I find others who share my view at least to some extent.

I had to search a bit to find like thinking in the case of the federal court ban on Roundup-ready alfalfa, but I did find some. My support came from California, the same state which hosts the federal court which handed down the ridiculous finding.

I`m against the ban because alfalfa pollen doesn`t just take off, willy-nilly, and deposit itself on other alfalfa plants, far and wide. I don`t know what the range of the average alfalfa pollen particle might be, but I`ve heard mention of such figures as 900 feet for forage crop alfalfa and 1,500 feet for seed crops.

The protesters who filed the suit in federal court express the concern that pollen from the genetically engineered plant could and would migrate to organic crops, which, by definition cannot be exposed to modifiers of any type.

Area farmers planted a fair amount of Roundup-ready alfalfa, hoping for a more-weed-free environment and subsequent increase in crop quality. Then came the federal court ruling, which stalled the further planting of the genetically modified seed and ordered farmers who already had planted the seed to make sure the crop does not contaminate neighboring crops.

The suit, brought by the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., argues that the genetically engineered seed could contaminate organic and conventional varieties.

Joseph Mendelson, the center`s legal director, says, “There`s a lot of farmers who don`t want to use genetically engineered alfalfa for a variety of reasons.”

If I could confront him directly, I`d ask him “Roughly how many of these farmers have you contacted?” I`d also like to know a few examples of reasons.

I found support for my knee-jerk reaction to the report of the ban written by Harry Cline in a publication called Western Farm Press. He wrote: “Ludicrous, absurd, unbelievable, preposterous — those are just a few descriptive terms for California Federal District Court Judge Charles Breyer`s decision to halt the sale of Roundup Ready Alfalfa seed.”

Roundup`s manufacturer, Monsanto, said the judge also ruled that the United States Department of Agriculture had inappropriately granted nonregulated status to Roundup-ready alfalfa, in that USDA had not followed the procedural requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. The USDA must now produce an environmental impact statement.

There`s not much indication when or under what circumstances this suit will be settled, and it`s quite likely its outcome will have far-reaching effects in the entire world of genetic modifications. It`s also considered a virtual certainty that the loser in this first round will appeal to federal circuit court and even to the Supreme Court.

The issue really is that important.

This opinion column is written by Karl Guenther, a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster. He can reached via e-mail at khguenther@chartermi.net

What are Roundup-ready crops?

Roundup-ready plants have been genetically engineered to permit direct application of the Monsanto herbicide glyphosate, allowing farmers to apply the herbicide to kill nearby weeds without killing the crops. In addition to alfalfa, the Monsanto Web site lists Roundup-ready corn, soybeans and cotton.

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