Today, in its first ruling on genetically modified seeds, the US Supreme Court firmly established that farmers can seek injunctions or other forms of relief from federal courts when their crops are threatened with infection by these GMOs.
This lawsuit revolves around Monsanto's Roundup Ready Alfalfa. After the USDA approved use of the seed without conducting an environmental impact study, farmers and environmental groups sought an injunction in federal court, which was granted by a federal trial court in 2007.
The trial court based its injunction on its finding that, in approving the use of the alfalfa seed without conducting an EIS, USDA had failed to answer substantial questions concerning the extent to which deregulation would lead to the transmission of genetic traits to the crops of organic and conventional farmers and also whether the deregulation of the Roundup Ready Alfalfa would lead to the development of Roundup Ready Weeds.
The trial court's injunction was overturned by today's Supreme Court ruling, which found that the nationwide injunction was overbroad. However, the Supreme Court left in place the trial court's ruling barring the USDA from completely deregulating Monsanto's Roundup Ready Alfalfa, and sent the case back down to the lower courts for further proceedings. What this means, as a practical matter, is that the Agriculture Department will have to complete the EIS process, including considering more than 200,000 public comments it has received since issuing a draft EIS in December of 2009.
While Monsanto's PR machine is hailing today's ruling as a victory, a close reading of the court's decision makes it seem something quite different - a newly opened avenue for farmers and citizens to challenge the long-term real-world consequences of genetically modified seeds. In fact, as the majority opinion states quite explicitly, if USDA pursues a partial deregulation of Monsanto's Roundup Ready Alfalfa that violates environmental law, "respondents may file a new suit challenging such action . . . ." This is the real news to take from today's Supreme Court ruling - farmers and ordinary citizens concerned about the potential harms of GMOs have surmounted the essential threshold legal issue of whether they have standing to sue - a question the nation's highest court answered today with a resounding "Yes!"
Originally published at ecocentrism.org