On Monday, June 21, the Supreme Court overturned a controversial ban on genetically modified (GM) alfalfa seeds created by United States biotech giant Monsanto. In a 7–1 vote, the Court reversed a previous ruling by a federal appeals court judge in San Francisco that banned Monsanto from selling seeds due to their resistance to the popular weed killer Roundup, leaving the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to decide whether or not GM seeds are safe to be planted. Hailed by mainstream media as a victory for Monsanto, the Center for Food Safety warns that the behemoth company’s public relations forces have spun the decision, masking the true outcome. While the 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 GM alfalfa remains intact, and that the planting and sale of GM alfalfa remains illegal.

According to George Kimbrell, senior staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety and lead council for the case (Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms), the decision leads to some important implications in future GMO cases. He told WholeFoods, “The Court concluded that the threat of unwanted foreign DNA gene flow to natural plants (i.e., transgenic contamination) constituted an environmental and economic harm sufficient to seek remedies in our courts. This is an important ‘standing’ victory, which will support the ability of farmers and the public to seek redress from biotech crop harms in the future.”

Not soon after the Supreme Court decision, the USDA issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement finding “no significant impact” from the use of genetically modified versions of the crop, while states such as Oregon and California are adamant in their belief that USDA needs to further investigate the chance of cross-pollination.

In response to the USDA statement, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) were joined by 49 other representatives and five other senators in a letter urging the USDA to retain the regulated status of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. The full text of the letter can be read here. About the letter, Kimbrell stated, “We applaud the important Congressional letter. USDA must make a new decision on the future of Roundup Ready Alfalfa independent of the Supreme Court case, which was about what happens in the interim. In addition to the letter from Congress, USDA has received over 200,000 public comments in 2010 opposed to any future commercialization of GE alfalfa. This is one of the largest outpouring of public comment in U.S. history. We hope the Obama Administration is listening.”

In related GE news, as of press time, an alliance of conservation organizations sued USDA over its approval of open-air field tests of a GE hybrid of eucalyptus tree across the southern United States. For more information, visit http://truefoodnow.org.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, August 2010 (epub July 21, 2010)