The case is Monsanto v. Geertson and I am not the first person to address it here on Daily Kos. For those of you who missed it, credstone penned this rec listed diary on Thursday. So, why I am I revisiting the topic of this Supreme Court case even after another diary received so much attention? Because it is that important. I don't have anything new to say in reference to the immigration law in Arizona. I'm not smart enough to add anything to the discussion about the Gulf oil spill. What I do know is food. So that is what I write about.
On Tuesday, April 27 the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Monsanto v Geertson. The case is the first on the subject of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) to be heard by the court. Chances are good that it won't be the last. The decision, expected by June, should have a wide-reaching effect on US agriculture, especially on organic agriculture.
The case involves the use of Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA) seeds, for which monsanto maintains a patent. For those of you who aren't familiar with Roundup ready crops, they are designed to be resistant to glyphosphate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. An herbicide is a chemical designed to kill plants, used to kill weeds. The idea behind Roundup ready plants is that the whole field can be sprayed and only the weeds will die. I am not trying to make a case for or against herbicides and their use. Herbicides have their place, just not in organic agriculture. For a crop to be labeled organic the farmer cannot use any chemicals.
And now for some background on the case. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service deregulated Roundup Ready Alfalfa in 2005. The deregulation is known as a Finding of No Significant Impact and was made without releasing an environmental impact statement, which some environmental groups claim is a violation of federal law. With the finding, the USDA removed all limits on planting and sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa seeds.
Geertson Seeds Farms of Idaho, along with The Center for Food Safety and a group of conventional and organic farmers, filed suit in District Court against the government citing violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, ant the Plant Protection Act. That court issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the sale of Roundup ready alfalfa until the Animal and Plant Inspection Service prepared and Environmental Impact Statement. The arguments before the court focused on the repeal of that ruling.
The case does not address whether or not GMO crops can contaminate or harm non-GM and organic plants. The Supreme Court made it clear that such a ruling should be the provenance of the USDA. Remember, the injunction remains in place only until the USDA releases its Environmental Impact Statement. That statement is expected sometime next year.
Why did Geertson bring this Suit? The major concern of the parties who sought the injunction is the issue of cross-fertilization. Previously, up to 60% of US alfalfa, grown as animal feed, was exported. Foreign sales of alfalfa declined by as much as half because many countries have ban on the use of GM crops. In many cases, a zone of several miles is required between GM crops and and conventional or organic ones. Geertson claims this doesn't work with alfalfa which has sprouted wildly along roadsides. Another concern is pollinating bees. It is believed that they carry pollen from GM crops to conventional fields which is a problem for organic farmers.
Justice Antonin Scalia's questions during oral arguments may prove telling as to the Court's opinion of the importance of the matter.
"This isn't contamination of the New York City water supply. It's the creation of plants of--of genetically engineered alfalfa which spring up that otherwise wouldn't exist. It doesn't even destroy the current plantings of non-genetically engineered alfalfa. This is not the end of the world. It really isn't."for more information on case details visit the website of the Washington Legal Foundation
"The most it does is make it difficult for those farmers who want to cater to the European market, which will not accept genetically engineered alfalfa, it makes it more difficult for them to have a field of 100 percent non-genetically engineered. But that's not the end of the world."