Feds may not join state investigation of Roundup Ready alfalfa
By Eric Mortenson
The federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service may not get involved in a grower’s complaint that alfalfa hay he raised was rejected because it carried a “Roundup Ready” genetic trait.
An APHIS spokesman said the agency is consulting with Washington State Department of Agriculture officials to determine whether to join the investigation. Roundup Ready alfalfa is legal to grow and sell in the U.S. and is accepted by most export markets, but some individual overseas buyers don’t want it. In this case, the grower intended to grow conventional alfalfa and bought seed for that purpose, according to the Washington agriculture department.
A broker rejected hay bound for export after it tested positive for the trait that makes alfalfa resistant to glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s widely used Roundup herbicide. The grower reported the incident to the state agriculture department.
Tests on alfalfa seed provided by the grower showed low levels of the Roundup Ready trait. The department did not disclose the amount detected but described it as “well within the ranges acceptable to much of the marketplace. “A second test, this time on plant material, was negative for genetically engineered traits, the department said. The tests were done at the department’s Yakima seed laboratory.
APHIS spokesman Ed Curlett said the federal and state agencies are discussing the next step. Critics have described the case as another example of genetically engineered crops escaping their intended use and contaminating other crops. The agencies, however, see the case as entirely different than the still-unexplained discovery of genetically engineered wheat plants in an eastern Oregon field this spring.
In that case, GE wheat has not been approved for commercial use, and should not have been growing anywhere. APHIS investigators flooded the region and have interviewed dozens of growers and seed suppliers. Roundup Ready alfalfa, meanwhile, was approved for use in 2011. That’s a key factor in whether APHIS joins the investigation, Curlett said.
“When it comes to these items that have been de-regulated by APHIS, it’s a situation that’s usually handled by the industry — the growers and seed makers,” he said.