Thursday, March 15, 2007

US court overturns approval of biotech crop

This is an interesting development.

Court Halt on GMO Alfalfa Shows USDA Failure - Critics

A court decision overturning US government approval for a biotech alfalfa underscores complaints made for years that the USDA is failing to adequately oversee genetically altered crops, biotech crop critics said on Tuesday.


USDA officials would not comment Tuesday, a day after US District Court Judge Charles Breyer of the Northern District of California issued an order on Monday that vacated USDA approval of Monsanto Co.'s "Roundup Ready" alfalfa.

The crop, genetically altered to withstand treatments of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, was approved in 2005. But Judge Breyer immediately halted any more seed sales and ordered that any planting must cease after March 30 after he determined that the USDA violated the law in allowing unrestricted commercial planting of the crop.

The judge said the USDA should have prepared an environmental impact statement before deregulating the Roundup Ready alfalfa. Such a statement is designed to explore negative consequences that might result from a release.

This is a subject way out of my areas of knowledge, so I can't really make any meaningful comments on it. However, that won't stop me from making a few anyway.

Out of pure principle, the court decision seems right to me. Such a law violation should of course lead to the approval being overturned. If the company looses money on it, then they should sue the USDA for not doing their job correctly.

With regards to the criticism, the critics explains why it's a big deal to them.

In the case of biotech alfalfa, a perennial livestock feed crop, several farm, environmental and consumer activists groups said there were many potential problems, including contamination of organic and conventional alfalfa supplies with the biotech version.

Other crops, including most notably corn and rice, have already been contaminated with biotech varieties, forcing in some situations costly recalls and lost export sales.

"I challenged them over and over to give us any scientific evidence that they can control the gene flow from these crops. So far they haven't been able to do that," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of The Center for Food Safety, which led the lawsuit against the US Agriculture Department.

Given the fact that such contaminations have already happened (at least according to the article), it not only seems like the correct legal decision, but also the prudent decision to make.

Hopefully this case will lead the agency to do its oversight job properly in the future.

As a end note - what is it with US agencies and departments not doing their work properly? It seems to me that it has gotten a lot worse during the Bush presidency, though I'm sure that there are plenty of stories from earlier presidencies as well.

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