Monsanto’s Herbicide-Resistant Alfalfa Not a ‘Pest’

Environmentalists lost efforts to have Monsanto Co.’s genetically-altered Alfalfa declared a “plant pest,” and thus subject to federal regulation.   The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court decision approving the Dept. of Agriculture’s unconditional deregulation of Roundup Ready Alfalfa, a plant genetically engineered by Monsanto to survive when sprayed by the weed killer.

The decision is a major setback for the organic food industry and opponents of genetically-modified foods.

Roundup, like the neutron bomb that killed people but left buildings standing, the Roundup-ready alfalfa remains standing when all the weeds around it die when sprayed with Roundup.

The Center for Food Safety and other groups had asked the appeals court to overturn the Dept. of Agriculture decision to deregulate alfalfa that was genetically altered.  The groups fear it will cross pollinate with naturally grown alfalfa and alter the genetic structure of alfalfa.

But Judge Mary Schroeder said the Plant Protection Act does not regulate the type of harms that the groups complained of and therefore the government correctly held that the genetically modified alfalfa is not a plant pest.

“We affirm, because the statute does not regulate the types of harms the plaintiffs complain of,” Schroeder said.

Farmers don’t generally apply the herbicide roundup to alfalfa fields because it would not only kill the weeds but also the alfalfa crop.  The company engineered a plant that would withstand Roundup, opening a new market for the herbicide.

Schroeder acknowledged the concern of environmentalists that transgenic contamination could harm the multi-billion organic food industry.

Traditionally, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates herbicide use and imposes labeling instructions.  It reevaluates an herbicide every 15 years.  Glyphosate, used in Roundup, was registered in 1974 and in 2004 the EPA approved its use after determining it did not cause any unreasonable environmental risks, according to Schroeder.

The EPA is currently in the process of re-registration and is expected to complete it in 2015, according to Schroeder.

The USDA has delayed approval of other Monsanto and Dow Chemical Co. herbicide-tolerant crops over concerns about the environmental effects of using 2,4-D and dicamba, which have not been used since the 1960s, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

Joining Schroeder were Judges Sidney Thomas and N. Randy Smith.

Case:  Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, No. 12-15052