Food safety group demands probe in tainted alfalfa
A food-safety advocacy group demanded on Friday that the U.S. government investigate how a Washington state alfalfa crop became tainted with a genetically modified trait that was illegal when the seed was purchased.
The Center for Food Safety said it was basing its legal petition on evidence that the seed used by farmer Joseph Peila to plant the crop was purchased in the year before the biotech variety was granted final regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011.
In August an exporter to Asia rejected Peila's hay crop because it tested positive for the genetically engineered trait, developed by Monsanto Co, found in "Roundup Ready" alfalfa. Many foreign buyers will not accept crops that contain the modification.
"Not only was the presence of GE alfalfa in ... Peila's alfalfa seed unlawful, the contamination exposes (him) and other farmers to huge potential losses," said George Kimbrell, a lawyer with the center. "USDA regulations make it clear that any level of contamination from unapproved GE plant material is unlawful."
The discovery of the contamination has highlighted the difficulties of keeping conventional and organic seed supplies free of biotech traits, say critics of U.S. regulatory policies on genetically modified crops. It has also heightened concerns that the USDA is not doing enough to stop such contamination.
The USDA said on Sept. 17 it would not take any action in Peila's case because the Roundup Ready alfalfa is now an approved crop.
But Peila - one of the first U.S. farmers to make a public complaint about alfalfa contamination - said he had purchased the seeds before the USDA granted final approval in 2011. To back up his contention, he has provided Reuters with documents including a 2010 sales receipt, bag labels and independent and state testing results.
"This seed was planted in 2010. It should have never been contaminated, period," the 40-year-old Peila said. "My whole management practice and marketing (are) thrown out the window. This scares me to death."
The Roundup Ready alfalfa seed was initially approved by regulators in 2005, but a lawsuit by the Center for Food Safety led to a federal court injunction keeping it off the market from 2007 to 2011, when the USDA granted final regulatory approval.
USDA spokesman Ed Curlett said on Thursday that the department has no intention of launching an investigation. He said because seed production with the Roundup Ready trait had occurred before the injunction, it has been known that conventional alfalfa seed in some lots produced after the injunction had low levels of the trait.