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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

U.S. Dodges Suit for Clearing Modified Seeds

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge dismissed claims that the government violated environmental law by completely deregulating Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa seeds.

Known as Roundup Ready Alfalfa, the crop was genetically engineered to be tolerant of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, which is also a Monsanto product. It is used to control weeds in fields where crops are grown. Because it is a "nondiscriminatory" herbicide and kills both desirable and undesirable plants, Monsanto has been developing crop seeds that are resistant to the effects of Roundup, allowing farmers to spray the poison on the genetically modified vegetable and fruit plants without fear of harming their crops.

The Center for Food Safety has sued both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Monsanto numerous times over the deregulation and use of genetically modified seeds. It sought to block the full deregulation of Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA) because of the product's significant risks to the environment, arguing that it would increase the use of glyphosate, which is toxic to plants and wildlife.

Increased use of glyphosate also encourages weeds to adapt and become Roundup-tolerant, and genetically modified alfalfa could change the genetic structure of other alfalfa varieties to become RRA, the nonprofit claimed.

Citing "prevailing statutory and regulatory framework" and other rulings by the 9th Circuit and the Supreme Court, U.S. District Judge Samuel Conte dismissed the case Thursday.

He noted that the government fully deregulated the seeds in January 2011 despite the fact that it did not dispute environmentalists' claims. In fact, it pointed out that the USDA's own environmental impact statement reached the same conclusions about Roundup Ready Alfalfa.

Conte questioned whether the USDA itself, and its decision to deregulate RRA, could be called the "cause" of increased pesticide use.

"[USDA] is not the legally relevant cause of the glyphosate use complained of by plaintiffs," and it "has no authority to regulate where and how glyphosate is used. Congress has delegated that authority to EPA ... and EPA has registered glyphosate for use on RRA," Conte wrote.

"If plaintiffs' allegations are true, then it is disturbing that EPA has yet to assess the effects of glyphosate on most of the species found near the acreage on which RRA will be planted and glyphosate will be used. .... EPA will not complete a national-level Endangered Species Assessment with respect to RRA glyphosate use until 2015."

"However, the court is in no position to evaluate EPA's compliance with relevant environmental laws," he added.

Conte also rejected the plaintiff's arguments that the USDA failed to take the "hard look" at RRA as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Monsanto has been developing Roundup-resistant fruits and vegetables so that farmers may spray the poison directly onto fields and plants, without fear of damaging or killing their crops. Genetically modified crops have been banned by France and six other European Union members, though Monsanto has been pressuring the EU to renew authorization of its genetically modified corn. The Court of Justice of the European Union recently made it more difficult for member states to unilaterally ban genetically modified organisms.

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