The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced on January 27, 2011, that it would grant non-regulated status for alfalfa that has been genetically engineered (GE) to be resistant to the herbicide commercially known as Roundup. USDA first approved the commercial planting of GE alfalfa in 2005, but several environmental groups and alfalfa seed producers challenged the action.

A federal court in 2007 vacated the approval, ruling that the department had not adequately assessed the environmental impacts of the biotech crop, including the possible effect on organic and conventional farmers. The court ordered the department to do a full environmental impact statement and banned further planting of the engineered seeds. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ban on planting in 2010, but did not reinstate the crop’s approval. Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, 130 S. Ct. 2743 (2010).

After releasing a 2,300-page environmental impact statement in December 2010, USDA met with a group of stakeholders “to discuss feasible strategies for coexistence between genetically engineered, organic and other non-genetically engineered stakeholders.” After the agency conducted what it describes as “a thorough and transparent examination” of the issues, it determined that “Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa.” The deregulation will be effective when the agency’s decision is published in the Federal Register. See USDA Press Release, January 27, 2011.