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Center for Food Safety Sues to Force USDA to Explain Why It Approved Genetically Modified Alfalfa

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A food safety organization has filed suit in federal court in a bid to force the U.S. Department of Agriculture to hand over documents in court that could explain why the federal agency approved GM alfalfa despite several concerns about its environmental safety.

The organization, the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, says that the USDA could have been pressured by agri-business and bio-ag giant Monsanto to approve its Roundup Ready alfalfa, which the company says is designed to withstand a number of applications of herbicide.

"USDA determined Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa posed significant environmental and economic harms and initially proposed placing restrictions on it. Yet the agency went ahead and granted full unrestricted approval one month later," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety, said in a prepared statement. "Did the White House intervene? Did Monsanto pressure the agency? The fact is we don't know, and unless the court orders USDA to hand over these documents we may never know."

'Nothing wrong with our GM alfalfa

In a statement emailed to the Los Angeles Times, Monsanto dismissed the organization's characterization of the GM alfalfa.

"Many thousands of farmers across the U.S. currently grow Roundup Ready alfalfa, corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets and canola," the company said. "Each of these crops was subjected to thorough scientific review by three separate federal agencies before reaching the market; none presents the types of risks CFS alleges."

Alfalfa is the fourth-most common crop grown in the U.S., behind corn, soybeans and wheat, in that order. A legume, alfalfa is a key element of feed for dairy cows and is a major ingredient in dietary supplements and herbal medicines. In addition, the U.S. exports tons of alfalfa annually.

The opposition to GM alfalfa centers around concerns that it will cross-contaminate traditional alfalfa fields, since the crop is pollinated by bees and other insects. That would harm organic farmers and exporters to countries where GMO foods and crops are restricted or banned.

The USDA, some years ago, echoed similar concerns in an analysis that was presented in court. That concern appears to have abated, however; in 2011, the bureaucracy gave its blessing to unrestricted cultivation of GM alfalfa.  

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