Today the United States Supreme Court is hearing the case of Monsanto vs. Geertson Seed Farms, which began in the lower courts back in 2006. A coalition of alfalfa farmers (conventional and organic), with the help of the Center for Food Safety (CFS) sued the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) over the USDA’s approval of Monsanto’s genetically engineered “Roundup Ready” alfalfa. The plant, like Roundup Ready soybeans and other crops, had been engineered to withstand repeated spraying of Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. Farmers and environmental advocates warned about the unintended spread of Monsanto’s patented variety of alfalfa, given that alfalfa is pollinated by bees that can fly many miles distance.
Court after court sided with CFS against the USDA. The history of this case is actually quite encouraging.
From the Civil Eats coverage of the case:
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.
The decision is due in June, and I’ll definitely keep you posted as to the outcome.
Check out this short video appeal by Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) as he emphasizes the good work that the CFS is doing.
If you want to help support the CFS as they take this and other cases to court in support of farmers around the nation, now’s the time to do it!
(photo by kenmccown)