This week, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a lawsuit in order to help determine why, despite evidence of significant environmental and economic harm likely to follow the approval of GMO alfalfa, the USDA caved.

In order to determine the possible “undue political pressure” the USDA may have submitted to, “the lawsuit seeks 1179 documents from USDA’s Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which may explain why the agency abruptly reversed its position and granted unrestricted approval for Monsanto to sell Roundup Ready Alfalfa,” says CFS.

In 2005, the APHIS had granted Monsanto the permission it needed to sell alfalfa under the “Roundup Ready” brand. Andrew Kimbrell, CFS’s executive director, explains the potential issues with this approval and why unearthing these documents is so important: “USDA determined Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa posed significant environmental and economics harms and initially proposed placing restrictions on it. Yet the agency went ahead and granted full unrestricted approval one month later. Did the White House intervene? Did Monsanto pressure the agency? The fact is we don’t know, and unless the court orders USDA to hand over these documents we may never know.”

After the approval in 2005, a lengthy battle between Monsanto and CFS waged in an attempt by CFS to challenge the approval. Monsanto eventually won that battle, but, since 2011, the CFS has attempted to gain access to the some 1,200 documents that may help us understand exactly what happened behind the scenes to get this potentially dangerous crop approved.

And why is all of this so important? Well, alfalfa is big crop business, and the impact of GMO alfalfa is even bigger: “The third largest crop in terms of value, alfalfa is grown in every U.S. state and is the key feedstock for the dairy industry,” says CFS. “Roundup Ready alfalfa is genetically engineered to withstand the repeated applications of the herbicide ingredient glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide roundup. USDA data show that 90% of all the alfalfa planted by farmers in the U.S. was previously grown without the use of any herbicides.  Due to the planting of GE alfalfa USDA estimates that up to 23 million more pounds of toxic herbicides will be released into the environment each year.”

As you can see, it’s quite important we understand how this crop was approved, despite its impacts and warnings that it could have detrimental environmental effects.

You can ready CFS’s full filing here.

Image source: Gary D. Robson / Wikimedia Commons