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Apr 27, 2010

US Supreme Court Considers GM Alfalfa Case

On 27 April 2010 the Voice of America reported that oral arguments for a case regarding gene-modified (GM) alfalfa were being presented to the the U.S. Supreme Court.  The case is known as Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms.  This is the first time that the court has considered a case on GE crops.  A ruling is expected in June 2010. 

The case centers on Round Up Ready Alfalfa, an herbicide tolerant alfalfa produced by Monsanto.  It was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for commercialization in 2005. 

In 2006, the Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit against Monsanto in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.  The lawsuit was filed on behalf of organic alfalfa growers who claimed that Monsanto's GE alfalfa contaminated their fields.  A federal court granted the organic farmers an injunction prohibiting the sale of GE alfalfa until APHIS completes a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS). Monsanto appealed on the grounds that APHIS considered whether to do this study during the approval process. 

This case has considerable economic and regulatory implications.  First, alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States. In 2009, approximately 8.5 million hectares were planted in alfalfa.  Second, the ruling in the case may impact regulatory issues regarding land-use issues such as co-existence and set aside refuges.  Third, the injunction creates uncertainty, which results in economic uncertainty for farmers growing GE crops.  Fourth, the injunction questions the regulatory approval process, specifically whether the executive or judicial branch of government should be making decisions regarding GM crops.  

Organic farmers and the Union of Concerned Scientists argue that APHIS did not execute due dilengence.  They did not consider the economic hardships posed by cross-contamination that might occur when the wind-blown pollen from GE alfalfa swept over the fields of organic farmers. 

Key to the case is the fact that the organic seed company filing for the injunction against Monsanto's GM alfalfa did not present any physical evidence of contamination. 

Photo credit: Alfalfa cutting courtesy of Marlin E. Rice, Integrated Crop Management, Iowa State University, University Extension.

For more see: Baragona, Steve. "US Supreme Court Considers Genetically Modified Crops; Case questions whether environmental law has gone too far," VOA News, Washington, D.C., 27 April 2010.

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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