BAY CITY, Mich. (AP) -- A genetically engineered strain of alfalfa that was banned nationwide until the government can adequately study the crop's potential impact already has been planted in 43 Michigan counties, including Jackson, Clinton, Ionia and Eaton.
In May, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer in California made permanent a temporary ban he ordered in March on alfalfa with genetic material from bacteria that makes the crop resistant to the popular weed killer Roundup.
Breyer said the U.S. Department of Agriculture must conduct a detailed scientific study of Roundup Ready alfalfa's effect on the environment and other alfalfa varieties before deciding whether to approve it.
The USDA recently released a list of counties in which the alfalfa is grown that includes the Michigan counties, The Bay City Times reported.
The Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., had sued on behalf of farmers who argued that the genetically engineered seed could contaminate organic and conventional alfalfa varieties.
"There's a lot of farmers who don't want to use genetically engineered alfalfa for a variety of reasons," said Joseph Mendelson, the center's legal director. "When their fields essentially get polluted with this crop, it can have negative effects on them in the market."
Dean Kirkpatrick, a dairy farmer in Kinde, grows 150 acres of traditional alfalfa. He scoffs at worries about the Roundup Ready variety.
"I believe a lot of this stuff is blown way out of proportion," Kirkpatrick said. "The same story went around when it came to Roundup Ready corn and then ... soybeans. Every time we come around with a new technology, somebody is going to make a fuss about it."
Nationwide, about 220,000 acres of genetically engineered alfalfa were planted this year before the judge's ban went into effect. The judge ordered those farmers to ensure their crops do not contaminate adjacent fields of alfalfa.
About 2,000 acres of the seed were planted in Michigan last year, according to the Michigan Farm Bureau.