Image: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos via Wikimedia Commons
The battle over the non-regulated status of genetically modified crops has reached the US Supreme Court. Monsanto has, not surprisingly, appealed a lower court decision that halted the continued unregulated release and planting of the agrifood giant's Roundup Ready Alfalfa.
Background and implications of the case, after the jump.
In 2004 Monsanto and their partner Forage Genetics petitioned the USDA for the go-ahead to commercially release Roundup Ready alfalfa. A year later the USDA granted non-regulated status. Between 2005 and 2007 300,000 acres of the seeds were planted in the U.S. Meanwhile, in 2006, Geertson Seed Farms and Trask Family Farms filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of Agriculture on the grounds that the USDA department responsible for the deregulated approval of the crop had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not preparing an Environmental Impact Statement.
In a position paper posted on their website Geerston Seed Farm explains the rationale for the original lawsuit.
Geertson Seed Farms opposes the commercialization of Roundup Ready alfalfa because the USDA failed to properly consider the environmental impacts and associated economic effects of commercialization.
The deregulation and commercialization of Roundup Ready alfalfa poses significant problems that must be considered and resolved in particular concerning biological contamination and weed resistance development.
Agriculture Law reports that the district court agreed with the plaintiffs that the environmental assessment undertaken by the USDA was inadequate and a full impact statement is necessary. The court allowed Monsanto to join the suit as a defendant which is how the case arrived at the Supreme Court.
msnbc reported on the tone of the Supreme Court hearing.
Several justices appeared skeptical that the lower court had the authority to fully ban the sale of the product because of the pending environmental review. Chief Justice John Roberts questioned why the court issued the injunction instead of simply remanding the matter back to the USDA.
The hearing also gave Justice Antonin Scalia an opportunity to share his decidedly unscientific assessment of the situation by stating "This isn't the contamination of the New York City water supply," No, no it's not. He continues, "This isn't the end of the world, it really isn't." Let's hope.
With thoughts such as those - and the fact that the USDA has now completed an Environmental Impact Statement that backs up their initial assessment to give the crop non-regulated status - I'd wager that come June when the court delivers its ruling that Monsanto will be back in the genetically modified alfalfa business. Shareholders will be pleased with the bump in share price while the rest of us hold our breath and hope that Justice Scalia's words remain true.
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