High Court Hears Arguments In First-ever Case on Genetically Engineered Crops
States, Scientists, Organic and Conventional Farmers, Food Companies, Exporters, and Legal Scholars File Briefs in Support, Oppose Monsanto
Today the Center for Food Safety (CFS) faces off against Monsanto in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of farmers and public interest environmental organizations. Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, 09-475. is the first case involving genetically engineered crops that has ever been heard by the Supreme Court.
All the lower courts agreed that the planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa must be stopped because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had failed to analyze the crop’s impacts on farmers and the environment. Although it remains undisputed that USDA violated environmental laws, and that it must rigorously analyze the genetically engineered crop’s impacts before deciding whether or not to approve it for sale, Monsanto is arguing that the lower courts should have allowed the planting of the illegal crop to go forward in the interim.
It was announced last week that the Center’s case has brought out an unprecedented range of interests – from farmers’ unions and food companies to scientific experts and legal scholars – which have filed briefs in support of CFS and opposed to Monsanto. The seven briefs, filed by more than sixty individuals, companies, organizations and three states’ attorneys general – can be viewed at http://truefoodnow.org/publications/supreme-court-briefs/
“Today we will have the privilege of speaking on behalf of family farmers, the environment, and the protection of an organic alternative,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “The law and the facts are on our side and we look forward to presenting our case before the Court.”
The genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa seed at the heart of the dispute has been engineered to be immune to Monsanto’s flagship herbicide Roundup. CFS filed a 2006 lawsuit against USDA on behalf of a coalition of non-profits and farmers who wished to retain the choice to plant non-GE alfalfa. Pointing to contamination incidents that have already occurred, organic and conventional farmers anticipate widespread contamination from Monsanto’s patented GE alfalfa, because alfalfa is pollinated by bees that can cross-pollinate GE and conventional plants separated by several miles. Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the U.S. and a key source of dairy forage. Similarly, contamination of feral or wild alfalfa, ubiquitous across the country, would ensure an ongoing and permanent source of transgenic pollution in wild places akin to that of invasive or exotic species.
Monsanto intervened in the case on behalf of USDA; however in 2007 the district court found in favor of CFS.. Following that, CFS won two appeals in the federal Court of Appeals, in 2008 and again in 2009. In January the Court agreed to hear the case over the opposition of both CFS and the U.S. government.
Farmers and food companies have taken note. Organic businesses and trade groups, including Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farms, the Organic Trade Association, Annie’s, Clif Bar, Eden Foods, United Natural Foods, and Nature’s Path Foods, voiced their deep concerns of the threat to their businesses posed by contamination from biotech crops in an amicus brief. The burgeoning $25 billion-a-year organic foods industry, the fastest growing food sector, is at particular risk from the effects of contamination. The organic industry brief warns that “widespread planting of RR (Roundup Ready) alfalfa imposes massive risk and uncertainty on the continued viability of organic dairy farming” and that overturning the lower courts would “irreparably harm” their ability to grow and sell organic food. Conventional farmers and exporters filed a similar brief, warning of lost overseas alfalfa markets in Asia, Europe and the Middle East that reject biotech-contaminated crops. GE contamination of conventional rice and corn crops in the past decade have cost U.S. farmers billions in lost markets. In Canada, the introduction of GE canola destroyed the nascent organic canola industry in that country.
In addition, the Attorneys General of California, Oregon and Massachusetts, which filed a brief on behalf of their citizens supporting the Center, have emphasized the “States’ interests in protecting their natural resources and their citizens’ rights to be informed about the environmental impacts of federal actions.” They further noted “immense” ramifications for all environmental protection should Monsanto prevail, which would damage the States’ interest in “protection of wilderness, habitat preservation for endangered species, watershed protection, [and] air quality.” A range of legal scholars, former government officials, scientists, and environmental groups have also filed briefs in support of the Center and against Monsanto.
A 2009 study showed that the cultivation of genetically modified crops, the vast majority Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” varieties, has over the last 13 years caused a dramatic increase in herbicide use, by 383 million pounds, and concomitant harms to the environment and human health.
from Center For Food Safety