The petition to deregulate the second biotech alfalfa drew sparse public comment. Not unexpectedly, it drew far more anti-biotech responses than endorsements. One hundred of the 120 comments submitted opposed the deregulation of reduced lignin alfalfa. However, only two of the oppositions’ comments even mentioned the word alfalfa.

Most simply stated they “hate Monsanto,” according to Mark McCaslin, president of Forage Genetics, the company that developed Roundup Ready alfalfas using Monsanto biotechology.

His comment drew chuckles from seed dealers and others who were visiting Forage Genetics’ new research facility near Davis, Calif., as part of a field day sponsored by W-L Alfalfas.

The guffaws were for the ludicrousness of the non-scientific objections from environmental radicals. The anti-biotech movement has morphed into an anti-Monsanto tirade.

The attack on biotech alfalfa is no laughing matter, however. Roundup Ready alfalfa was mired in a six-year legal morass by radical environmental groups who challenged USDA’s decision to deregulate the herbicide resistant forage crop with a variety of lawsuits. Eventually, Monsanto and Forage Genetics prevailed, and RR alfalfa has been on the market for more than a year. It is now widely planted with as much as 90 percent of alfalfa seed sales in the transgenic legume.

Alfalfa acreage has steadily declined over the past few decades; therefore, the industry has far fewer resources to develop expensive biotech crops than other major crops. However, alfalfa remains a very significant forage crop for livestock feed, especially in dairies.

Had the radicals been successful in killing Roundup Ready alfalfa, it could have halted biotech development in alfalfa because of the limited resources and acreage.

The research and development dollars for alfalfa have declined by 60 percent to 70 percent over the past few years because the number of alfalfa seed companied has plummeted from 10 to 15 to just three.

It costs $100 million and takes at least eight years to develop a GE trait alfalfa, McCaslin told the group. That is more than the remaining alfalfa seed companies can afford individually.

Thus, the Consortium for Alfalfa (CAI) was created to fund continued improvement in alfalfa for dairy cattle.

CAI is comprised of four entities, Forage Genetics, Pioneer, the Noble Foundation and U.S Dairy Forage Research Center and its USDA-ARS alfalfa research unit.

Researchers in this group are working to develop forages using biotechology that can be utilized more efficiently by cows. Up to a third of alfalfa protein is excreted by cows, and farmers often have to replace alfalfa with row-crop-derived protein sources or feed protein supplements at extra costs.