The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday decided to hear an appeal by Monsanto (NYSE: MON) concerning one of its genetically modified crops, despite opposition from within the US government.
Geertson Seed Farms and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) sued the US Department of Agriculture in 2006 over the department's approval of Monsanto's modified, round-up resistant alfalfa seed. A federal district court blocked the sale of the seed until an environmental review was conducted. Monsanto has twice appealed the ruling and lost.
The federal judge 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.
court permitted farmers that had already planted to continue, but
halted any further planting pending the agency’s re-assessment.
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.
The Supreme Court case will be Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, No. 09-475.
Monsanto's appeal include the American Farm Bureau Federation, the
Biotechnology Industry Organization, the American Seed Trade
Association and the National Corn Growers Association, according to
USDA completed the first draft of the EIS in December 2009, and a final assessment is expected after a 60-day public comment period.
“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.”
“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.
The U.S. Department of Justice has undertaken an investigation of
Monsanto regarding violations of anti-trust and monopoly laws and is
set to hold public hearings in spring 2010.
A 2009 study showed that the use of genetically modified crops, the vast majority Monsanto’s “roundup ready” crops, has caused over the last 13 years a dramatic increase in herbicide use, by 383 million pounds, and concomitant harms to the environment and human health.