Supreme Court rules for Monsanto

SUBHEAD: The court ruled in favor of Monsanto ban, but the ban on GMO alfalfa may remain intact if USDA finds contamination harmful.

By Robyn O'Brian on 22 June 2010 in Huffington Post -

Image above: Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer who fought Monsanto on contaminating his crops with GMOs. See (
[Editor's note: The ruling this Monday was in favor of Monsanto but different observers have concluded surprisingly different conclusions on its effect - even in the same publication. It appears Monsanto won the battle but may have lost a front in the war. Now contamination of organic and conventional seed is to be considered environmental harm.]

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Monsanto Corporation on Monday and struck down a 2007 restriction that barred farmers from planting Monsanto Co.'s Roundup Ready alfalfa seed. The ruling allows the interim planting of Monsanto's product, RoundUp Ready alfalfa, pending USDA approval, as the federal government completes a study of whether the seed's use would have an environmental impact.

Monsanto, the corporation who owns the patent on RoundUp Ready alfalfa, celebrated the decision in support their product's advancement in the marketplace in a statement to the press and shareholders:
"This Supreme Court ruling is important for every American farmer, not just alfalfa growers. All growers can rely on the expertise of USDA, and trust that future challenges to biotech approvals must now be based on scientific facts, not speculation."
-- David F. Snively, Monsanto senior vice president and general counsel
"This is exceptionally good news received in time for the next planting season. Farmers have been waiting to hear this for quite some time. We have Roundup Ready alfalfa seed ready to deliver and await USDA guidance on its release. Our goal is to have everything in place for growers to plant in fall 2010."
-- Steve Welker, Monsanto alfalfa business lead

According to Business Week and the USDA, alfalfa is "the fourth-most-planted U.S. crop behind corn, soybeans and wheat, is worth $9 billion a year, with annual seed sales valued at $63 million, according to a USDA study. Dairy cows are the primary consumers of alfalfa hay".
The decision is significant because it gives the USDA the ability to partially deregulate genetically engineered crops.

According to the USDA, "U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) crops widely since their introduction in 1996, notwithstanding uncertainty about consumer acceptance, economic and environmental impacts" and the fact that allergenicity testing is not yet available for the novel proteins and allergens created in the genetic engineering process.

Debates over the allergenicity of genetically engineered crops have continued since an August 13, 2002 meeting of the Food Biotechnology Subcommittee of the Food Advisory Committee a multi-agency committee that included representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center or Food Safety and applied Nutrition, a division of the FDA, at which the committee's acting chair, Edward N. Brandt, Jr. MD, PhD, stated in response to a discussion on the safety of genetically engineered foods,
"Of course, we haven't worked into this some kind of test for allergenicity, per se...."
Dean Metcalfe, who served as the head of the National Institutes of Health's Laboratory for Allergic Diseases at the time, explained that although you could test genetically engineered crops for known proteins it was the unintended creation of new proteins that made it difficult to test GM crops for allergenicity.

Despite the fact that a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, "Food Allergy Among US Children Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations, shows a 265% increase in the rate of food allergic hospitalizations, these novel food proteins have been considered innocent until proven guilty.
While Monsanto appears to benefit from the Supreme Court ruling which will allow for the introduction of its licensed and patented product into the US food supply, pending USDA approval by the office that oversees biotech crops, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), (which leaves the door open to some sort of preliminary approval for the alfalfa seed), perhaps as we move forward we should call on the USDA to not only conduct an Environmental Impact Sudy, but also an Children's Impact Survey.

Given that in today's ruling, the Supreme Court has also now ruled for the very first time that "environmental harm" includes economic effects such as reduced agricultural yield or loss of market due to genetic contamination, as well as the concept of what biologists refer to as "gene flow" (in practice, the idea that genetically engineered material may get into conventional plants through cross-pollination), the Supreme Court has now accepted that this phenomenon in and of itself is harmful and illegal under current environment protections.

While we may not all be shareholders in the profits to be derived from Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa patent and its licensing agreement, we are all stakeholders in the environment and in our food supply. And as we proceed with caution, it could be argued that those who stand to gain or lose the most, given the environmental and health implications of genetically engineered alfalfa, are our children.

By Andrew Kimbrell on 21 June 2010 in Huffington Post -  

It should be no surprise that Monsanto's PR machine is working hard to spin the truth in this morning's decision in the first-ever Supreme Court case on genetically engineered crops (Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms). Despite what the biotech seed giant is claiming, today's ruling isn't close to the victory they were hoping for.

The 7-1 decision issued today by the Supreme Court was on the appeal of the Center for Food Safety's (CFS) successful suit, which resulted in a ban on GMO alfalfa. And, while the High Court ruled in favor of Monsanto by reversing an injunction that was part of the lower court's decision, more importantly, it also ruled that the ban on GMO alfalfa remains intact, and that the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa remains illegal.

This point, which seems to be lost in some news reports, is actually a huge victory for the Center for Food Safety and - most importantly - for the farmers and consumers who we represent.
The Supreme Court ruled that an injunction against planting was unnecessary since, under lower courts' rulings, Roundup Ready Alfalfa became a regulated item and illegal to plant. In other words, the injunction was "overkill' because our victory in lower federal court determined that USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental laws when it approved Roundup Ready alfalfa. The court felt that voiding the USDA's decision to make the crop legally available for sale was enough.

A different ruling could have had far-reaching ramifications that might have extended beyond our borders, affecting the health and status of world markets for U.S. alfalfa, and impacting the fastest growing sector of the US agriculture market - organic. But the court clearly saw that, and opted instead to rule very narrowly.

And yet, Monsanto is out there in a public statement saying that they've won a great victory. They claim that they're ready to sell Roundup Ready Alfalfa seeds now, and that they hope that their farmers should be able to plant by fall 2010. It's a canny statement, but neither of those potential situations is by any means possible at this point. The bottom line: the ban on planting Roundup Ready Alfalfa still stands.
The Center is victorious in this case in several other ways: most importantly, the High Court did not rule on several arguments presented by Monsanto about the application of federal environmental law. As a result, the Court did not make any ruling that could have been hurtful to National Environmental Policy Act or any other environmental laws. In addition, the Court opinion supported the Center's argument that gene flow is a serious environmental and economic threat. This means that genetic contamination from GMOs can still be considered harm under the law, both from an environmental and economic perspective.

This Court opinion is in many ways a victory for the environment, the Center for Food Safety, for farmers and for consumers and a defeat for Monsanto's hopes of a green light. To represent this opinion in any other way is just spin.

• Andrew Kimbrell is Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety

See also:
Island Breath: Monsanto Guilty of Contamination 7/3/08 3/07
 Island Breath: The Future of Food 9/27/04


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