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USDA deregulates modified alfalfa seed

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will fully deregulate genetically engineered alfalfa seed for planting.

“When all the dust settles, it will affect us,” said Jim Blanksma, who owns Broken Arrow Farms south of Mountain Home. He hasn’t determined if he will plant “Roundup-ready” seed, but did so in one of his fields when Monsanto first made the seed available more than five years ago.

The seed can be used to clean up fields with high weed counts, he said. “If you have a weedy field, you have significantly reduced quality.

“I don’t think it’s for everyone, but it has its place,” Blanksma said.

A federal court ordered the USDA to put its approval of genetically modified alfalfa seed on hold and to study the seed further. Supporters say the seeds help farmers cut costs and better manage field operations. Opponents argue the seeds can spread to other fields, by wind or through pollination, and threaten the food supply.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced it is deregulating genetically modified alfalfa seeds after finding they are as safe as traditional seed. The agency said it will reestablish committees on biotechnology and genetics; step up research; provide voluntary, third-party audits; and request proposals – through the federal Small Business Innovation Research program – to improve seed handling and gene detection.

“Now it’s up to the seed suppliers,” said Idaho Alfalfa and Clover Seed Commission Chairman Leland Tiegs, a Nampa seed grower. These suppliers, which contract with seed growers, will decide where those acres are going to be placed so people who are sensitive to the Roundup-ready gene are protected.

The seeds are available. A sizable supply was being grown when USDA regulated the seeds, he said.

Southwest Idaho is a major seed-growing region, and alfalfa is a staple for the state’s dairy industry.

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