The Center for Food Safety, Earthjustice and a number of other public interest
groups have sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), challenging
its decision to deregulate genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. Ctr. for Food
Safety v. Vilsack, No. 11-1310 (N.D. Cal., filed March 18, 2011).
Other plaintiffs include the Cornucopia Institute, Geertson Seed Farms, which
successfully challenged a previous agency decision to deregulate GE alfalfa,
the Sierra Club, and organizations representing the interests of organic and
family farmers.

The complaint alleges that the environmental impact statement (EIS) that
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) prepared to
support its deregulation decision violates the National Environmental Policy
Act (NEPA), Plant Protection Act (PPA) and Administrative Procedure Act. The
plaintiffs note that the court-ordered EIS “is the first (and only) EIS APHIS has
ever completed for any GE crop, in over fifteen years of approving GE crops for
commercial use.”

Seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, the plaintiffs claim that the EIS is arbitrary and capricious because the agency’s analysis of “the myriad environmental, socio-economic, agricultural, and cumulative impacts” of deregulating GE alfalfa “is erroneous, unsupported, and/or inadequate.” The complaint characterizes the EIS as “superficial, lacking in detail or quantification, and conclusory,” and contends that APHIS’s analysis is based on “unreliable data and erroneous assumptions contrary to the record.” According to the plaintiffs, the “NEPA analysis and its outcome were improperly predetermined, and its scope was erroneously confined, by the agency’s misapplication of its underlying statutory authority under the PPA.”

The plaintiffs seek a vacatur of the deregulation decision and the completion
of a “proper environmental review.” With numerous references to previous
court rulings agreeing with the plaintiffs’ position that APHIS improperly
deregulated GE alfalfa once before, the complaint calls for the court “to vacate
APHIS’s decision to once again deregulate [GE alfalfa] without taking a ‘hard
look’ at the environmental consequences of its decision.”

In essence, the plaintiffs claim that GE alfalfa will contaminate conventional
and organic crops, resulting in significant environmental and economic losses.
Among other matters, they allege that alfalfa is widely consumed by livestock,
is pollinated by several bee species and provides important wildlife habitat, all
of which would be negatively affected by APHIS’s deregulation decision. They
also allege that because the alfalfa hay export market is valued at $192 million
annually and many of the countries importing U.S. alfalfa either ban, restrict
or impose regulations on GE crops, the agency’s decision would devastate the
conventional and organic alfalfa export market. They also claim that GE crops
foster an epidemic of resistant weeds that agronomists call “one of the most
serious challenges facing American agriculture.”

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.