Supreme Court to Hear First GE Crop Case

Today the United States Supreme Court will hear argument in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, the first time ever that the High Court has heard a dispute involving a genetically engineered crops. The decision may have broad impacts on how genetically engineered (GE) crops are treated by U.S. regulators and courts.

The case began in 2006 when the Center for Food Safety (CFS) sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) on behalf of a coalition alfalfa conventional and organic farmers and environmental organizations over USDA’s approval of Monsanto’s GE “Roundup Ready” alfalfa, engineered to withstand repeated dousing of Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. Farmers and environmental advocates raised alarm about the unintended spread of Monsanto’s patented variety and transgenic contamination of natural alfalfa given that alfalfa is pollinated by bees that can fly many miles distance.

In 2007 a federal district court agreed with CFS, holding that USDA had illegally approved the GE alfalfa and stopped any further planting until USDA complied with environmental laws. Monsanto, who had intervened in the case, appealed the ruling, but a federal Court of Appeals agreed with CFS, first in 2008 and then again in 2009.

Now, Monsanto has taken their case to the only court left—the U.S. Supreme Court. Monsanto was able to get the Court to take the case over the objection of both CFS and USDA. The Court only hears about 80 cases a year out of around 8,000 attempts. Here’s the point Monsanto wants addressed: although it is undisputed that USDA violated environmental laws and that the agency must rigorously analyze the crop’s impacts if it is to again approve it for sale, Monsanto is arguing that the lower courts should have allowed the planting of the now-illegal crop to go forward anyway, before the agency did its homework All lower courts agreed that the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa should halt because of the unknown and potentially harmful impacts of the crop on farmers’ livelihoods and the environment.

Some have tried to characterize the conflict in this case as an example of only the environmentalists vs. big business; that’s not accurate. This case pits Monsanto against hugely important sectors of U.S. agriculture, the public interest in protecting our environment. In addition, interested parties ranging from farmers unions and food companies to scientific experts, legal scholars, and three states’ attorneys general have all filed briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of The Center for Food Safety and opposed to Monsanto.

The full throated support of these 63 high-profile individuals and groups is extraordinarily encouraging, but on Tuesday, it will be the Supreme Court who will hear the case and eventually make the decision. Because the ramifications of this case will extend beyond our borders, affecting the health and status of world markets for US alfalfa, and impacting the future of the fastest growing sector of the US agriculture market–organic–it’s safe to say the whole world will be watching the outcome.

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Check the website, and join our True Food Network for more information about the Supreme Court case and our work on GMO crops and foods. You can also check out our Shoppers Guide to Avoiding GMO foods.

Originally Published on A Month Without Monsanto

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Heather Whitehead is the True Food Network Director at The Center For Food Safety. She is also the editor and lead writer of CFS's quarterly newsletter Food Safety Now!, and was a contributing writer to CFS's new book Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and the Secret Changes in Your Food. Read more >

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