Roundup Ready Alfalfa

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Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RR Alfalfa) is genetically engineered alfalfa that has had its DNA modified to withstand the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate). Alfalfa was the first perennial crop to be genetically engineered.[1] RR Alfalfa was created by Monsanto and Forage Genetics International. The two genetically engineered varieties (J101 and J163) are both sold by Monsanto under the brand "Genuity™ Roundup Ready® Alfalfa."[2]


2005: Deregulation in Canada

Both varieties of Roundup Ready alfalfa, J101 and J163, were deregulated in Canada on July 28, 2005.[3]

2005: Initial Deregulation in the U.S.

The USDA authorized field trials for RR alfalfa in 1998. After years of field trials, Monsanto and Forage Genetics, Inc. submitted petitions to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the USDA requesting the deregulation of two lines of RR alfalfa (events J101 and J163) under the Plant Protection Act in May 2003.[1]

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), APHIS must either conduct an "Environmental Assessment" (EA) or a more extensive "Environmental Impact Statement" (EIS). An EA can be used to determine whether an EIS is necessary. APHIS performed an EA and, "on June 27, 2005, following review of public comments on the draft EA, APHIS announced in the Federal Register its decision to deregulate GE alfalfa and issued a FONSI [Finding of No Significant Impact]. APHIS essentially concluded that GE alfalfa exhibited no plant pathogenic properties that could have environmental impacts, and, consequently, that an EIS was not required. The EA is a more limited assessment of the environmental impacts of an action, and the decision to issue a FONSI rather than conduct an EIS led to a legal challenge."[1]

2006: Lawsuit and Injunction

In February 2006, Geertson Seed Farms, Trask Family Seeds, the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, The Cornucopia Institute, The Dakota Resource Council, the National Family Farm Coalition, the Sierra Club, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils filed a lawsuit challenging the deregulation of RR alfalfa. In the case Geertson Seed Farms et al v. Johanns et al, Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on February 13, 2007, ruling that APHIS should have prepared an EIS before deregulating RR alfalfa.

At that point, the judge needed to decide what must be done with RR alfalfa that was already sold and/or planted. Monsanto and Forage Genetics argued that growers had already purchased RR alfalfa seed for the spring planting season, which was already underway. On March 12, 2007, the court issued a preliminary injunction, prohibiting all sales and planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa as of March 30, 2007, pending the issuance of a permanent injunction.[4] Therefore, any farmers who had already purchased seed could plant it if they did so immediately, and any who had already planted it were allowed to grow it, harvest it, and sell it. The court issued a permanent injunction in May 2007, banning all future plantings but taking no action against already planted RR alfalfa. The USDA had to prepare an EIS before it would be allowed to deregulate RR alfalfa again.


The USDA, along with Monsanto and Forage Genetics, appealed. "Defendants, joined by intervenors Monsanto and Forage Genetics (collectively, "appellants"), appeal the injunction, arguing it is too broad, but neither the government nor the intervenors now question the existence of a NEPA violation. They dispute only the scope of the injunction, and whether the district court should have held a further hearing before enjoining future planting."[4] The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision in 2009.

At this point, the USDA declined to appeal to the Supreme Court, but Monsanto did appeal the case. "The injunction was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that the injunction was too broad and that the court should have considered partial deregulation. The Supreme Court did not discuss the appropriateness of the environmental review."[1]

2011: Re-Deregulation

APHIS announced a draft EIS for RR alfalfa was available for public comment on December 14, 2009, with the comment period ending March 3, 2010. It received 244,000 comments. The final EIS was published December 16, 2010.[1]

"On January 27, 2011, Secretary Vilsack announced that APHIS was granting GE alfalfa full deregulation. The stated basis of the decision was that GE alfalfa posed no greater plant pest risk than other conventional alfalfa varieties. APHIS concluded that any option other than full deregulation was inconsistent with their regulatory authority under the Plant Protection Act. In the EIS, APHIS identified both the complete deregulation and the partial/conditional deregulation as preferred alternatives. While the decision to deregulate means that APHIS has no further regulatory control over the planting, distribution, or other actions related to GE alfalfa, growers continue to be subject to any contract restrictions imposed by Monsanto’s technology use agreement. Those non-regulatory restrictions include managing hay to prevent seed production, harvesting at or before 10% bloom in areas where seed is produced, and prohibitions on use in wildlife feed plots. Growers who raise alfalfa for seed would be required to follow Forage Genetics International Best Practices.
"Representatives of national agricultural commodity associations (e.g., American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cotton Council, USA Rice Federation) sent a letter to the Administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy on January 5, 2011, opposing the partial deregulation, arguing that such a decision would be a significant departure from the 1986 Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology. The letter also expressed concern that a partial deregulation could have impacts on current trade agreements. At a forum on January 20, 2010, convened by the House Agriculture Committee, Members queried Secretary Vilsack about the partial deregulation option, and indicated their support for full deregulation.
"The Center for Food Safety (CFS), one of the original plaintiffs, criticized APHIS’s decision and vowed to continue its legal challenge to deregulating GE alfalfa. In an open letter to Secretary Vilsack, CFS claimed that the Final EIS was still deficient in its assessment of the impacts of GE alfalfa, noting among other alleged deficiencies, not properly assessing liability and oversight, the impact of increased herbicide use, and the harm from herbicide-resistant weeds."[1]


For other controversies that are generic to all Roundup Ready crops, please see the article on Roundup Ready Crops.

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Tadlock Cowan and Kristina Alexander, "Deregulating Genetically Engineered Alfalfa and Sugar Beets," Congressional Research Service, January 25, 2012.
  2. Product Safety Summaries, Accessed August 13, 2012.
  3. Novel Foods Decisions - Approvals, Health Canada, Accessed August 14, 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Geertson Seed Farms v. Johanns, 570 F. 3d 1130 - Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit 2009, Accessed August 1, 2012.

External resources

External articles

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