February 16, 2006

Farmers, others sue USDA over Monsanto GMO alfalfa

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A coalition of farmers,
consumers and environmental activists on Thursday sued the U.S.
government over its approval of a biotech alfalfa that critics
say will spell havoc for farmers and the environment."

Opening another front in the battle over genetically
modified crops, the lawsuit contends that the U.S. Department
of Agriculture improperly is allowing Monsanto Co. to sell an
herbicide-resistant alfalfa seed while failing to analyze the
public health, environmental, and economic consequences of that

"The USDA failed to do a full environmental review when
they deregulated this genetically engineered alfalfa," said
Will Rastov, an attorney for Center for Food Safety, one of the
plaintiffs. "They're going to wreak untold dangers into the

The lawsuit asks the federal court in San Francisco to
rescind the USDA's decision until a full environmental review
has been completed.

The suit asserts that the genetically modified alfalfa will
probably contaminate conventionally grown alfalfa at a fast
pace, ultimately forcing farmers to pay for Monsanto's patented
gene technology whether they want the technology or not.

The group says biotech alfalfa would also hurt production
of organic dairy and beef products as alfalfa is a key cattle
feed. And the suit claims farmers could lose export business,
valued at an estimated $480 million per year, because buyers in
Japan and South Korea, major importers of U.S. alfalfa, have
indicated they would avoid buying U.S. alfalfa once the
genetically engineered variety is released.

Plaintiffs also said Monsanto is marketing the
herbicide-tolerant crop in a way that encourages far greater
applications of chemicals than alfalfa typically requires.

Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United
States, behind corn, soybeans, and wheat.

South Dakota alfalfa farmer Pat Trask, one of the
plaintiffs, said Monsanto's biotech alfalfa would ruin his
conventional alfalfa seed business because it was certain his
9,000 acres would be contaminated by the biotech genes.

Alfalfa is very easily cross-pollinated by bees and by
wind. The plant is also perennial, meaning GMO plants could
live on for years.

"The way this spreads so far and wide, it will eliminate
the conventional alfalfa industry," said Trask. "Monsanto will
own the entire alfalfa industry."

Monsanto has a policy of filing lawsuits or taking other
legal actions against farmers who harvest crops that show the
presence of the company's patented gene technology. It has sued
farmers even when they have tried to keep their own fields free
from contamination by biotech plants on neighboring farms.

"It's the desire of Monsanto to pursue global control and
total control over the American alfalfa seed industry," said

Monsanto spokeswoman Mica DeLong said the company had no
comment on the issue and referred inquires to USDA. Monsanto
received regulatory clearance to begin selling the biotech
alfalfa last summer.

The suit names Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns,
Animal Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Ron
Dehaven and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Steve
Johnson as defendants.

APHIS spokeswoman Karen Eggert said the agency had no
immediate comment. EPA also declined to comment and a
spokeswoman for USDA could not be reached immediately.

In addition to the Center for Food Safety and the Trask
family, the plaintiffs include the National Family Farm
Coalition, Sierra Club, Dakota Resources Council, and other
farm, environmental and consumer groups.