The United States Supreme Court announced its decision Monday in Monsanto v. Geerston Farms, the first genetically modified crop case ever brought before the high court. As a result, the ban on planting Roundup Ready Alfalfa still stands, until and unless future deregulation by federal agencies occurs. The Center for Food Safety calls it a “major victory” for conventional farmers and consumers.
In a 7 to 1 vote, the court ruled on 3 issues and held that any further attempt to commercialize Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA), which has been engineered to survive weed killer, may require an Environmental Impact Study that would be 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.
(Photo by KConnors, via Morguefile.com)
Following the ruling, more than 50 U.S. lawmakers called on the U.S. Agriculture Department to keep Monsanto’s biotech alfalfa out of farm fields. The lawmakers said the biotech alfalfa presents too great a risk to conventional and organic agriculture to ever allow it.
“While the decision is complicated, given that it overturns a ban on the planting of RRA, this Court opinion is in many ways a defeat against Monsanto,” wrote CFS’s Executive Director, Andrew Kimbrell. “Especially because despite the ruling, it is still illegal to sell or plant genetically modified alfalfa.”
Monsanto asked the Supreme Court to rule on three main issues: (1) to lift the injunction on GMO alfalfa; (2) to allow the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa; (3) to rule that contamination from GMO crops not be considered irreparable harm.
The court only ruled on the first request which it did affirm by stating that the injunction was overly broad and should be overturned. However, the Court ruled in favor of The Center for Food Safety on the other two issues, which in many ways are more important because the fact remains that the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa remains illegal.
The justices ruled that an injunction against planting was simply unnecessary since, under lower courts’ rulings, Roundup Ready Alfalfa became a regulated item and illegal to plant. In other words, the injunction was “overkill’ because our victory in lower federal court determined that USDA violated the National Environmental Protection Act and other environmental laws when it approved Roundup Ready alfalfa. The court felt that voiding the USDA’s decision to make the crop legally available for sale was enough.
The High Court did not rule on several arguments presented by Monsanto about the application of federal environmental law. As a result, the Court did not make any ruling that could have been hurtful to National Environmental Policy Act or any other environmental laws. In addition, the opinion supported the Center’s argument that gene flow is a serious environmental and economic threat. This means that genetic contamination from GMOs can still be considered harm under the law, both from an environmental and economic perspective, another huge victory for CFS.