U.S. federal judge rules that farmers can plant Monsanto's GM alfalfa despite fears that crop will contaminate fields

LOS ANGELES , January 9, 2012 () – U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti of San Francisco has ruled that alfalfa growers can plant a Monsanto Corporation’s genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant strain of alfalfa over the objections of farmers who fear that the crop, spread via bees and wind, will contaminate their fields, Bloomberg reported Jan. 7, 2011.

In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the use of Monsanto’s genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant strain of alfalfa.

In 2007, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer overturned the USDA’s earlier approval of the product in 2005, which required that organic farms should be surrounded by a buffer zone to prevent contamination. Judge Breyer ruled that USDA had not conducted a thorough study examining the environmental and safety effects posed by the use of Monsanto’s genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant strain of alfalfa

Judge Conti overturned the 2007 decision, stating that the risks the USDA is required to study when examining any potential risks associated with a new genetically-modified crop do not include “the effects of cross-pollination on other commercial crops.”

The department’s conclusion, he said, that it lacked the authority to require a buffer zone between genetically modified alfalfa and other crops was correct, as the USDA had ruled that contamination was "possible but unlikely.”

The plaintiffs are planning to appeal Judge Conti’s decision, said George Kimbrell, a lawyer with the nonprofit Center for Food Safety.

Alfalfa, which is grown on approximately 20 million acres nationwide, is the fourth-largest crop in the US. It is used primarily for cattle feed and hay.

The primary source of this article is Bloomberg, New York, New York, on Jan. 7, 2011.

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