Supreme Court's ruling on Monsanto's GM alfalfa
2.Supreme Court's Ruling on Monsanto's GM Alfalfa: Who Won?
NOTE: Monsanto and much of the US's mainstream media are declaring today's Surpreme Court verdict a victory for Monsanto, with headlines declaring the ban on GM alfalfa has been lifted - not so fast say these commentators.
1.Supreme Court Ruling in Monsanto Case is Victory for Center for Food Safety, Farmers
Center for Food Safety, June 21 2010
*High Court Delivers Ruling that Leaves Ban on Planting of Roundup Ready Alfalfa in Place in First-Ever Case on a Genetically-Engineered Crop
[image caption: CFS staff attorney George Kimbrell speaks to members of the press after Tuesday's Supreme Court hearing]
The Center for Food Safety today celebrated the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Monsanto v. Geerston Farms, the first genetically modified crop case ever brought before the Supreme Court. Although the High Court decision reverses parts of the lower courts’ rulings, the judgment holds that a vacatur bars the planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Alfalfa until and unless future deregulation occurs. It is a victory for the Center for Food Safety and the Farmers and Consumers it represents.
“The Justices’ decision today means that the selling and planting of Roundup Ready Alfalfa is illegal. The ban on the crop will remain in place until a full and adequate EIS is prepared by USDA and they officially deregulate the crop. This is a year or more away according to the agency, and even then, a deregulation move may be subject to further litigation if the agency’s analysis is not adequate,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “In sum, it’s a significant victory in our ongoing fight to protect farmer and consumer choice, the environment and the organic industry.”
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In the majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court held: “In sum”¦the vacatur of APHIS’s deregulation decision means that virtually no RRA (Roundup Ready Alfalfa) can be grown or sold until such time as a new deregulation decision is in place, and we also know that any party aggrieved by a hypothetical future deregulation decision will have ample opportunity to challenge it, and to seek appropriate preliminary relief, if and when such a decision is made.” (Opinion at p. 22).
The Court also held that:
* Any further attempt to commercialize RRA even in part may require an EIS subject to legal challenge.
* The Court further recognized that the threat of transgenic contamination is harmful and onerous to organic and conventional farmers and that the injury allows them to challenge future biotech crop commercializations in court.
USDA indicated at the Supreme Court argument that full deregulation is about a year away and that they will not pursue a partial deregulation in the interim. Any new attempt at deregulation in full or part will be subject to legal challenge.
“The bottom line is that the Supreme Court set aside the injunction because the vacating of the commercialization decision already gave us all the relief we needed, by forbidding RRA planting until a new decision is made by the agency. And at such time, farmers and consumers still have the right to challenge the adequacy of that process.” said George Kimbrell, senior staff attorney for CFS. “The Court’s decision affirmed that the threat of genetic contamination of natural plants posed by biotech crops is an issue of significant environmental concern now and in the future.”
In this case, CFS faced off against powerful opposing entities, including the Department of Agriculture and the agricultural biotech giant, Monsanto Corporation. The Center and the other respondents were supported by a broad array of diverse interests, marshalling no less than seven amicus briefs in support. The amici included three states’ attorneys general, leading scientific experts, legal scholars, former government officials, farmers, exporters, environmental groups, food companies and organic industry trade groups. The Organic Trade association and companies like Stonyfield Farms, Cliff Bar and Eden Foods voiced united concern over the threat a ruling for Monsanto would pose to the organic food businesses, the fastest growing sector in the American food industry. Attorneys general from California, Oregon and Massachusetts filed a brief on behalf of their citizens emphasizing “the States’ interests in protecting the environment, their natural resources and their
citizens’ rights to be informed about the environmental impacts of federal actions.” A full list of the more than sixty organizations, companies and individuals who filed briefs in support of CFS and opposed to Monsanto can be viewed at http://truefoodnow.org/publications/supreme-court-briefs/.
Monsanto was supported by a bloc of powerful corporate interests and industry groups, including the American Farm Bureau, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and CropLife America.
The environmental, health, cultural, and economic impacts of the genetically-engineered alfalfa seed, which is designed to be immune to Monsanto’s flagship herbicide Roundup, and the USDA’s plan to commercialize it, was at the heart of this dispute since 2006, when CFS filed a lawsuit against the USDA on behalf of a coalition of non-profits and farmers who wanted to retain the choice to grow non-GE alfalfa. Central to the issue is unwanted transgenetic drift: GE alfalfa can spread uncontrollably by way of bees that can cross-pollinate plants many miles away, contaminating both conventional and organic alfalfa with foreign DNA, patented by Monsanto.
“We brought this case to court because I and other conventional farmers will no doubt suffer irreversible economic harm if the planting of GE alfalfa is allowed,” said plaintiff Phil Geerston. “It was simply a question of our survival, and though we did not win on all points of the law, we are grateful that the practical result of today’s ruling is that Monsanto cannot take away our rights and Roundup Ready alfalfa cannot threaten our livelihoods.”
Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the U.S., and a key source of dairy forage. Organic and conventional farmers faced the loss of their businesses due to widespread contamination from Monsanto’s patented GE alfalfa, and the foreseeable contamination of feral or wild alfalfa would ensure an ongoing and permanent source of transgenic pollution in wild places akin to that of invasive species. The New York Times (link) recently covered the epidemic of super-weeds Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops are causing across the country.
Further background information on the history of this case and scientific studies are available at http://truefoodnow.org/publications/supreme-court-briefs/. The Supreme Court decision can be viewed here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/09-475.pdf
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The Center for Food Safety is national, non-profit, membership organization, founded in 1997, that works to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. On the web at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org
2.Supreme Court's Ruling on Monsanto’s GE Alfalfa: Who Won?
Grist, June 21st 2010
The sustainable agriculture world is abuzz today with news of the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding an earlier lawsuit, brought by alfalfa farmers, that sought to stop any planting of Monsanto’s genetically engineered Roundup Ready alfalfa seed. While the press coverage heralds the ruling as a decisive victory for Monsanto, a close reading shows that, in fact, it’s a fairly significant win for opponents of biotech crops.
Hay dudes, not so fast
The background: As the fourth most-planted U.S. crop behind corn, soybeans, and wheat, alfalfa is worth $9 billion a year ”” the dairy industry is the bigest consumer ”” with annual seed sales valued at $63 million, according to a USDA study. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa seed has been genetically engineered to be tolerant of glyphosate, the active ingredient of Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup.
Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco found that the USDA had illegally approved Roundup Ready alfalfa for planting ”” which the agency refers to as “deregulating” ”” by allowing Monsanto to sell and farmers to plant the seeds without the USDA completing a required full Environmental Impact Statement. (A preliminary one was under way.)
In response to a lawsuit filed by GMO-opposed alfalfa farmers along with the Center for Food Safety on behalf of consumers, the District Court halted all planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa until the USDA completes the EIS, which could take years. It also issued two injunctions: one that prevented the USDA from performing a so-called “partial deregulation” of Roundup Ready alfalfa, i.e. allowing restricted and otherwise limited planting, while it prepared the final environmental statement; the other stopping farmers from planting any Roundup Ready alfalfa starting with the 2010 crop year. (For a deeper look into the lead-up to the case, read Matt Jenkins’ excellent 2007 feature “Brave New Hay” from High Country News.)
Today, in a 7-1 opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court reversed both District Court injunctions, saying that the Court had overreached itself procedurally in halting the plantings. (Both Justices Steven Breyer and Clarence Thomas had conflicts of interest in the case ”” Breyer’s brother was the District Court judge on the case, while Thomas was corporate counsel for Monsanto earlier in his career, but only Breyer saw fit to recuse himself.)
Despite the news reports claiming victory for Monsanto, the Supreme Court did not overturn the central tenet of the case: that the USDA illegally approved Roundup Ready alfalfa. The District Court, in effect, made it once again illegal to plant Roundup Ready alfalfa ”” and the Supreme Court endorsed that ruling.
In short, it remains illegal to plant RoundUp Ready alfalfa. While the Justices did declare that the USDA, if it wants to, has the right to give the seed a preliminary approval (i.e. for limited, restricted planting), the Supreme Court ruling does not by itself give Roundup Ready alfalfa the green light.
And it’s important to note that the USDA has not yet formally announced any intention to re-authorize the restricted plantings, which would come in the form of a rule for “partial deregulation” of Roundup Ready alfalfa. In fact, the agency and Monsanto hed preciously submitted such a plan to the District Court in hopes that it would be incorporated into the final ruling, and instead, they received an injunction.
To some, that move appeared to be an attempt at an end run around the official rulemaking process. It’s not clear if the USDA will move forward with anything other than the “final” environmental review.
No mo’ gene flow?
More importantly, 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 now accepts that this phenomenon in and of itself is harmful and illegal under current environment protections.
“That’s a huge win for our side ”¦ That’s gigantic!” Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist of Consumers Union, told me. Future lawsuits can now confidently use the gene-flow argument against approval and use of genetically engineered crops.
Others share his glee. The Center for Food Safety called the ruling “a victory for the Center for Food Safety and the farmers and consumers it represents.”
For its part, Monsanto is spinning the ruling positively. In a statement posted on its website, the company said:
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.
Well, from all appearances Monsanto has this flat wrong. Farmers can’t plant Roundup Ready alfalfa just yet. And even if the USDA tries for that preliminary approval, the Supreme Court made very clear that today’s ruling does not presume that any preliminary approval is (or isn’t) legal.
Indeed, the legal issues at the heart of the ruling aren’t over the rights of corporations or the science behind genetically engineered seed, but about the separation of powers between co-equal branches of government. The Supreme Court today stopped a District Court from telling a federal agency that it couldn’t make regulatory rules. For the judiciary to stop the government from doing its job requires meeting a very rigorous set of standards. After the Supreme Court decided to make this point the crux of its ruling, all the other issues fell by the wayside. Another way of looking at it is that the supposed “overreach” by the District Court was against the USDA, not Monsanto.
The Supreme Court has also made the point very clearly that outside groups have the ability to file lawsuits in order to stop any poorly conceived or improperly executed rule that a federal agency passes. And surprisingly enough, the Court ”” with its expansion of the definition of “environmental harm” to include things like gene flow ”” just gave consumer groups a whole new set of legal weapons to wield against the same companies currently crowing over the implications of today’s events.
Tom Laskawy blogs on food and the environment at Grist.org and Beyond Green, where he covers food policy, alternative energy, climate science, and politics.