Supreme Court to Hear First Genetically Engineered Crop Case

Hat tip: True Food Now!

Monsanto Takes Center for Food Safety Legal Victory to Highest Court

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear a first-time case about the risks of genetically engineered crops. Named Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, No. 09-475, the case before the high court will be yet another step in an ongoing battle waged by the Center for Food Safety to protect consumers and the environment from potentially harmful effects of genetically engineered (GE) crops.

The modified alfalfa seed at the heart of the dispute has been engineered to be immune to Monsanto’s flagship herbicide Roundup. Monsanto intervened in a 2007 federal district court ruling that the Department of Agriculture’s approval of GE alfalfa was illegal. The Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a 2006 lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of non-profits and farmers who wished to retain the choice to plant non-GE alfalfa. CFS was victorious in this case – in addition CFS has won two appeals by Monsanto in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: in 2008 and again in 2009. Now, upon Monsanto’s insistence, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

“This is truly a ‘David versus Goliath’ struggle, between public interest non-profits and a corporation bent on nothing less than domination of our food system,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “That Monsanto has pushed this case all the way to the Supreme Court, even though USDA’s court-ordered analysis is now complete, and the U.S. government actively opposed further litigation in this matter, underscores the great lengths that Monsanto will go to further its mission of patent control of our food system and selling more pesticides.”

The federal district court required the Department of Agriculture to undertake an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) assessing the impacts of the crop on the environment and on farmers; the first time the U.S. government had ever undertaken such analysis for any GE crop. The court permitted farmers that had already planted to continue, but halted any further planting pending the agency’s re-assessment. That the EIS was required is not in dispute; the legal issue is only the scope of relief while USDA analyzed the impacts of the crop for the first time.

In October 2009 Monsanto asked the Supreme Court to hear further arguments. In response, the Center and the U.S. government separately opposed that request the following December. USDA completed the first draft of the EIS in December 2009.

“Although we believe a further hearing is unnecessary, we are confident we will again prevail, as the lower courts have already three times determined,” continued Kimbrell. “We hope that this grand stage will further inform the public, policymakers and the media about the significant risks of genetically engineered crops and the vital need to protect farmers and the environment.”

Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the U.S. and a key source of dairy forage. It is the first perennial crop to be genetically engineered. It is open-pollinated by bees, which can cross-pollinate at distances of several miles, spreading the patented, foreign DNA to conventional and organic crops. Such biological contamination threatens the livelihood of organic farmers and dairies, since the U.S. Organic standard prohibits genetic engineering, and alfalfa exporters, since most overseas governments also reject GE-contaminated crops.

“We trust the Supreme Court will uphold farmers right to choose their crop of choice and protect us from the constant fear of contamination from GE crops,” said Phil Geertson, an alfalfa farmer based in Idaho.


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