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Another lawsuit filed over biotech alfalfa.

A coalition of environmental and organic farming groups has filed a lawsuit against USDA's recent decision to deregulate alfalfa that has been genetically engineered to be resistant to the glyphosate herbicides.

The action by the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, the California Farmers Union, and several other groups was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It alleges that USDA's decision in January to deregulate the biotech alfalfa violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Plant Protection Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. The groups requested that the court vacate the deregulation decision and that the department undergo "proper environmental review."

The suit further charges that deregulation will cause gene contamination in "conventional, organic, and feral alfalfa," as well as hurt the organic dairy industry, which requires organic alfalfa feed for livestock to maintain USDA organic certification.

Earlier the Center for Food Safety also challenged USDA's decision in June 2005 to deregulate bioengineered alfalfa, and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California halted deregulation in February 2007, ruling the department had to perform more extensive environmental review.

At that time, the court found that USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act because it undertook only an environmental assessment of alfalfa and not a full environmental impact statement. However, that decision was overturned last June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the district court abused its discretion in barring USDA from even partially deregulating the crops pending environmental review.

The 7-1 Supreme Court ruling upheld the district court's finding that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act in not preparing a full environmental impact statement before fully deregulating alfalfa, but it allowed the inspection service to consider a partial deregulation as an option, allowing for buffer zones and other control mechanisms. USDA completed a full environmental impact statement in December 2010.
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Publication:The Food & Fiber Letter
Date:Mar 28, 2011
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