Plaintiffs 2, Monsanto 1 in Supreme Court decision

Both the Center for Food Safety and Monsanto declared victory in the recent Supreme Court decision on genetically modified alfalfa. Who won? It’s a little complex, but if the decision was a baseball game, CFS and the plaintiffs would be declared the winner 2 to 1.

In the first ever Supreme Court case involving genetically modified crops, the Court ruled by a vote of 7-1 that a lower court had erred in issuing an injunction blocking the sale of Monsanto’s GM Roundup Ready alfalfa seed, saying the injunction was too broad and should be overturned.

Monsanto declared victory and media outlets, such as the New York Times and Associated Press, said the Supreme Court had overturned the ban on GM alfalfa. But a closer look revealed that the plaintiffs—Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Geertson Seed Farms—had even more reasons to celebrate.

Ban on GM alfalfa remains

Monsanto had requested the Supreme Court to rule on three issues: (1) lifting the injunction on GMO alfalfa; (2) allowing the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa; and (3) ruling that contamination from GMO crops not be considered irreparable harm. The Court ruled in Monsanto’s favor on the first issue, but ruled in CFS and the plaintiffs’ favor on the other two. The Court ruling did not alter the 2007 lower court decision, which overturned the approval of GM alfalfa pending an environmental review by the US Department of Agriculture. In addition, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that the threat of GMO contamination was a sufficient cause of environmental and economic harm to support future challenges on GMOs. Finally, the Court did not make any ruling that would have impacted the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other environmental laws.

“The Justices’ decision 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.

Legal Planet (Berkeley Law/UCLA), called the decision “a narrow procedural win for Monsanto and the government and a victory for the plaintiffs on standing grounds.”

Plaintiff Phil Geerston calls the case against GM alfalfa a “question of survival.”

“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.”

Draft EIS led to 200,000 comments

Monsanto is hoping USDA will allow plantings of GM alfalfa this fall because the Supreme Court ruled that the injunction prevented USDA from granting partial deregulation of GM alfalfa that would have allowed limited plantings of the crop.

However, USDA gave no indication this would happen. USDA spokesman Caleb Weaver told Reuters “USDA is moving forward with the completion of the environmental impact statement on the deregulation of Roundup Ready Alfalfa and nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision affects that ongoing process.”

USDA issued a draft EIS last December and received over 200,000 public comments from people opposing approval of GM alfalfa. The agency must review all those comments.

The Supreme Court ruling could affect similar legal action against Roundup Ready GM sugar beets. Last fall, a federal court ruled that USDA approval of Roundup Ready was unlawful and ordered the agency to conduct an EIS. The plaintiffs requested an injunction to block sale of the seed, but the Supreme Court ruling may now dissuade the judge from doing so.

(Sources: Center for Food Safety, Thompson Reuters, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, New Scientist, Legal Planet)

(Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, July/August 2010)