Federal judge issues injunction against
planting of genetically engineered alfalfa seeds
Environmental impact study ordered
Photo courtesy University
By Julia Cheever
May 3, 2007
A federal judge in San Francisco today barred the U.S. Agriculture
Department from allowing further sale and planting of a genetically
engineered alfalfa seed until a full environmental impact study
The seed is known as Roundup Ready alfalfa. It is genetically
engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup, thus enabling alfalfa
to grow when Roundup is used to kill weeds in alfalfa fields.
Both Roundup and the technology for the Roundup Ready alfalfa
seeds are made by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer issued a permanent injunction
in a lawsuit filed by eight environmental and farm groups, including
the Center for Food Safety and the Sierra Club.
Will Rostov, a lawyer in the San Francisco office of the Center
for Food Safety, said, "This is a huge victory for the environment."
Rostov said, "It's the first time a federal court has stopped
further planting of a genetically engineered crop approved by
The injunction prohibits any further sale and planting of the
engineered seed until the study is prepared but allows careful
harvesting of engineered alfalfa already planted on about 220,000
That alfalfa was planted before Breyer temporarily blocked use
of the new seed in a preliminary injunction in March. The total
national cultivation of alfalfa is about 22 million acres.
The environmental groups argued the engineered gene could contaminate
organic and conventionally grown alfalfa through pollination by
bees and wind.
In an earlier ruling, Breyer agreed that the loss of some or
all non-engineered alfalfa would have a significant impact on
farmers who want to use non-engineered alfalfa and consumers who
don't want to eat dairy products and meat from cattle fed with
engineered alfalfa. A full study was therefore needed, the judge
In today's decision, Breyer wrote, "It is not in the public
interest to take action that has the potential of eliminating
the availability of a non-genetically engineered crop without
adequate investigation into the long-term impact of such action."
The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Agriculture Department,
but Monsanto was allowed to join the case later.
The company has said the engineered seed offers "an effective,
environmentally responsible alternative weed-control system in
alfalfa that contributes significantly to grower profits and the
production of enhanced quality animal feed for the dairy industry."
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