On Monday, June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling that many headlines proclaimed a victory for seed and chemical giant Monsanto-- but the true story of the decision may lay in details that have been largely overlooked.
Although the Supreme Court ruled that the District Court in San Francisco did not have the authority to impose a complete ban on all planting of the genetically modified alfalfa seed, nor the ability to outlaw a “partial deregulation”, the ruling did not allow for planting to begin. Instead, the Supreme Court allowed the USDA to re-pursue partial deregulation of the seed but left the door wide open for future legal challenges of the testing and planting of the Roundup Ready alfalfa.
One of the strongest arguments for any future action against the deregulation of the Monsanto alfalfa seed came out of the ruling in the Supreme Court’s definition of “environmental harm” due to “gene flow.” Gene flow refers to the process of the spread of genetic material between plants due to cross pollination, wind, and other naturally occurring forces. It can lead to modified genetic material from Roundup Ready alfalfa plants mixing with that of unmodified alfalfa in other fields and farms. The Court expanded its definition of “environmental harm,” to include this almost inevitable process that often leads to contamination of organic and wild varieties of crops and possibly the extinction of these natural genetic structures, meaning that it is accepted as harmful and illegal.
Look for this argument and other ammunition from organic and food safety groups in the next round of legal battles surrounding the hotly contested issue of genetically modified seed and crops.
Post by John Skinner