Archive for July, 2010


Last week the U.S. Supreme Court announced its 7-1 decision in Monsanto Co. v. Geerston Seed Farms, a case that’s dominated the news (well, at least the news we tune into here at Farm Aid), with a flurry of conflicting, confusing headlines.

So, here’s a bit of straight talk on the case:

At hand is an appeal by Monsanto, the seed giant, against a lower court’s decision to issue a permanent injunction on the planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa (a genetically-engineered variety of alfalfa designed to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide). For those not addicted to Law & Order, it means the court issued a permanent order to stop the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa. For more background on the controversy around Roundup, read about it here in blogs by our spring intern Caroline.

To understand what’s at stake, it’s helpful to review the original case Monsanto appealed.

In 2005, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) deregulated Roundup Ready alfalfa (let’s just call it GE alfalfa for brevity’s sake). USDA’s “Finding of No Significant Impact” or FONSI (officially my favorite government acronym) allowed free reign to plant, harvest and sell GE alfalfa. But—whoops!—USDA failed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the novel crop, a violation, it turns out, of federal environmental law.

Enter Geertson Seed Farms, along with the Center for Food Safety and a slew of other parties. They filed suit in federal district court, citing violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Plant Protection Act in the failure to prepare an EIS. They also cited grave concerns about the environmental, health, cultural and economic impacts of GE alfalfa, most of which boil down to the issue of unwanted genetic drift, or in other words, spread of pollen.

GE alfalfa, which is a cross-pollinated plant, can spread uncontrollably since honeybees can carry its pollen many miles away, much farther than the 900-foot isolation distance required between GE and non-GE alfalfa fields. This leaves the potential for contamination of both conventional and organic alfalfa farms from foreign GE alfalfa DNA, patented by Monsanto.

The lower court ruled in favor of Geertson, issuing a permanent injunction (ban) that prohibited the sale of GE alfalfa until a full EIS was completed. This decision was upheld in a federal appeals court.

After two failed appeals in lower courts, Monsanto, backed by groups including the American Farm Bureau, Biotechnology Industry Organization, American Petroleum Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and CropLife America, brought the case to the highest court of the land—the Supreme Court of the United States.

In their appeal, Monsanto challenged the process used to set the permanent injunction. The Supreme Court agreed, there should have been a hearing conducted prior to permanent injunction, and in turn the ban set by the lower court was removed. Big win for Monsanto?

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