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GE Alfalfa

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USDA releases its EIS on genetically altered alfalfa

OTA outlines its position on protecting organic crops from GE contamination and calls for protecting consumer choice in the marketplace

Contact: Barbara Haumann (802-275-3820, bhaumann@ota.com)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 16, 2010)—The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today released its
final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concerning the potential
impacts of deregulating genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. USDA was
required to halt the deregulation of GE Alfalfa pending the completion
of a thorough review of the environmental impacts of the deregulation.
Besides being the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case requiring the
review, USDA received comments from the public on the draft EIS, with
many demanding a review of the impacts USDA had not previously

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has opposed unconditional deregulation, insisting that policy decisions regarding GE regulation should shift the costs associated with enabling meaningful co-existence from the organic and non-GE sectors to the patent holders of the GE crops, protect organic seed crops, and assure good implementation of requirements to avoid contamination in the first

“Today’s announcement does show a shift in policy at USDA
regarding GE deregulation in that one option under consideration
includes mandated agricultural practices, isolation distances and
geographic restrictions to reduce the likelihood of contamination. OTA
recognizes this as an important first step  and looks forward to all
stakeholders—USDA, all sectors of agriculture, NGOs and consumer
groups—taking part in policy development discussions to protect all
producers from market losses due to unrestricted deregulation of GE
crops and products,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s Executive Director
and CEO.

 “Contamination has real economic consequence to organic
farms and product manufacturers. GE-contaminated organic crops and
products lose their market value, and the costs to prevent
contamination and testing costs to verify that crops and products are
free of such contamination are all currently borne by the organic
industry solely,” stated Bushway. “Our consumers simply will not accept
GE-contaminated products. That is, in fact, one of the major reasons
that they buy USDA certified organic products,” she added.

OTA outlined a list of essential components needed for
meaningful co-existence of organic and GE crops, including but not
limited to:

  • Assignment of liability to the GE patent holder,
    including a system of compensation for losses due to inadvertent
  • Compensation for perpetual costs of co-existence
    including testing and commingling prevention throughout the
    supply chain,
  • Preservation of seed stock supply and genetic diversity—critical to food security,
  • Comprehensive environmental, public health and socio-economic assessments prior to deregulation,
  • Retention of regulatory authority by USDA after
    deregulation GE crops through creation of “commercialization
    permit” that places the burden of contamination prevention on the
    planters of GE crops versus the current model where the burden is
    borne solely by Non-GE and organic farmers and handlers,
  • Labeling of GE crops and product ingredients.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business
association for organic agriculture and products in North America. Its
members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers'
associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers
and others. OTA’s Board of Directors is democratically elected by its
members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic
trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy (www.ota.com)