EPA Supports Draft EIS in GE Alfalfa Dustup
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has submitted comments to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) indicating that it “does not object” to APHIS’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa, prepared by court order after a successful court challenge to USDA’s decision to deregulate the bioengineered seed. Environmentalists convinced the court that APHIS erred in allowing GE alfalfa to be grown without conducting a detailed environmental review; they claimed that it would have deleterious effects on the environment and affect the livelihood of farmers who grow conventional or organic alfalfa. An injunction has been in place preventing the sale of GE alfalfa seed or its cultivation until the EIS is finalized.
EPA did call for clarification to the EIS Surface Water discussion, which indicates that “glyphosate and its metabolite aminomethyphosphonate can be removed through standard water purification and disinfection processes such as ozonation and chlorination. EPA recommends that this discussion be expanded to include impacts glyphosate and aminomethyphosphonate may have on drinking water quality in areas where the level of treatment of drinking water does not include ozonation and chlorination.” GE alfalfa is bioengineered to be tolerant to Roundup Ready®, a herbicide containing glyphosate; the herbicide can be applied to fields to kill weeds without harming the crop.
While the draft EIS finds little to no harmful environmental effects, a number of organizations have submitted comments raising concerns and criticizing APHIS for not considering a range of alternatives. According to a news source, the Union of Concerned Scientists urged the agency “to deny the [Monsanto] request for nonregulated status for [the Roundup Ready] alfalfa because the proposed stewardship plan is fundamentally flawed and will not ensure [non-GE] alfalfa seed purity.” The Center for Food Safety reportedly commented, “APHIS gives the false impression throughout the EIS that alfalfa is an herbicide-intensive crop like corn or soybeans. This false impression sets up an equally false ‘need’ for a pesticide-based weed control technology like Roundup Ready alfalfa.” See InsideEPA.com and Federal Register, March 12, 2010.