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article imageSupreme Court rules on GM alfalfa, but who won?

By Martin Laine     Jun 23, 2010 in Food
In the first case of its kind to come before them, the U.S. Supreme Court this week overturned a ban on planting genetically-modified alfalfa, at the same time returning the matter for further review by the USDA. Both sides are claiming victory.
The case, Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms involves alfalfa that has been genetically-modified to tolerate Monsanto’s widely-used herbicide Roundup. In 2006, the US Dept. of Agriculture approved the seeds for planting after deciding that a full environmental review was not necessary. Geertson sued, and in 2007, a district court imposed the nationwide ban.
About 22 million acres of alfalfa are grown in the U.S. for use as cattle feed and hay.
The ban was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals, and Monsanto took the case to the Supreme Court. The high court sided with Monsanto, ruling that the district court had overstepped its jurisdiction.
“This is exceptionally good news received in time for the next planting season,” said Monsanto’s alfalfa business chief Steve Welker. “We have Roundup Ready alfalfa seed ready to deliver and await USDA guidance on release.”
And therein lies the difference.
The National Cooperative Grocers Association, made up of 114 natural food co-ops, praised the court’s ruling for maintaining a USDA decision against making the genetically-modified alfalfa available for widespread commercial use. After the initial court ruling, the USDA reversed its original position and agreed it would conduct a full environmental impact review.
“Although the decision does not uphold an indefinite ban on genetically-engineered alfalfa, it provides consumers and farmers the opportunity to voice their opinions and challenge any potential deregulation of alfalfa,” reads an organization press release.
Concerns about genetically-modified alfalfa were recently outlined in a letter being circulated around Congress by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, particularly as it relates to the $1.4 billion organic dairy industry, as well as other organic enterprises.
They point out that the USDA already recognizes that the genetically-modified alfalfa will spread and contaminate other crops, impacting other farmers; foreign markets that ban genetically-modified foods will be put at risk; and that farmers will have to use even more toxic herbicides if they want to remove the Roundup Ready alfalfa.
The ruling has been closely watched by other groups. Environmental groups say the ruling will hamper their ability to challenge the actions of federal agencies, while business and industry groups say the courts should raise the bar on such challenges.
More about Genetically-modified alfalfa, Monsanto, Supreme court
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