In Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, No. 09-475, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case which could have an enormous effect on the future of the American food industry. This is Monsanto's third appeal of the case, and if they win a favorable ruling from the high court, a deregulated Monsanto may find itself in position to corner the markets of numerous U.S. crops, and to litigate conventional farmers into oblivion.
Here's where it gets a bit dicier. Two Supreme Court justices have what appear to be direct conflicts of interest.
Charles Breyer, the judge who ruled in the original decision of 2007 which is being appealed, is Stephen Breyer's brother, who apparently views this as a conflict of interest and has recused himself.
From the years 1976 - 1979, Thomas worked as an attorney for Monsanto. Thomas apparently does not see this as a conflict of interest and has not recused himself.
Fox, meet henhouse.
The lawsuit was filed by plantiffs which include the Center for Food Safety, the National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Dakota Resources Council and other farm, environmental and consumer groups and individual farmers. The original decision:
The federal district court in California issued its opinion on the deregulation of “Roundup Ready” alfalfa pursuant to the Plant Protection Act on February 13, 2007. Upon receiving Monsanto’s petition for deregulation of the alfalfa seed, APHIS conducted an Environmental Assessment and received over 500 comments in opposition to the deregulation. The opposition’s primary concern was the potential of contamination. APHIS, however, made a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and approved the deregulation petition, thereby allowing the seed to be sold without USDA oversight. Geertson Seed Farms, joined by a number of growers and associations, filed claims under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as well as the Endangered Species Act and Plant Protection Act. In regards to NEPA, they argued that the agency should have prepared an EIS for the deregulation.
Addressing only the NEPA claims, the court agreed that APHIS should have conducted an EIS because of the significant environmental impact posed by deregulation of the alfalfa seed. A realistic potential for contamination existed, said the court, but the agency had not fully inquired into the extent of this potential. The court also determined that APHIS did not adequately examine the potential effects of Roundup Ready alfalfa on organic farming and the development of glyphosate-resistant weeds and that there were “substantial questions” raised by the deregulation petition that the agency should have addressed in an EIS. Concluding that the question of whether the introduction of the genetically engineered alfalfa and its potential to affect non-genetic alfalfa posed a significant environmental impact necessitated further study, the court found that APHIS’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered the agency to prepare an EIS. The court later enjoined the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa from March 30, 2007, until completion of the EIS and reconsideration of the deregulation petition, except for those farmers who had already purchased the seed. In May of 2007, the court enjoined any future planting of the alfalfa. An order by the court in June, 2007 required disclosure of all Roundup Ready planting sites.
Monsanto filed appeals in 2008 and 2009. In both instances, they were unsuccessful in having the original decision reversed, so they appealed to the Supreme Court, who agreed to hear the case.
Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States, behind corn, soybeans, and wheat.
South Dakota alfalfa farmer Pat Trask, one of the plaintiffs, said Monsanto's biotech alfalfa would ruin his conventional alfalfa seed business because it was certain his 9,000 acres would be contaminated by the biotech genes.
Alfalfa is very easily cross-pollinated by bees and by wind. The plant is also perennial, meaning GMO plants could live on for years.
"The way this spreads so far and wide, it will eliminate the conventional alfalfa industry," said Trask. "Monsanto will own the entire alfalfa industry."
Monsanto has a policy of filing lawsuits or taking other legal actions against farmers who harvest crops that show the presence of the company's patented gene technology. It has sued farmers even when they have tried to keep their own fields free from contamination by biotech plants on neighbouring farms.
The case has implications beyond alfalfa crops. About eight hundred reviewed genetically engineered food applications were submitted to the USDA, yet no environmental impact statements were prepared. Even as this diary is being written, a federal judge in San Francisco is reviewing a similar case involving genetically modified sugar beets. The decision is expected this week and could halt planting and use of the gm sugar beets, which account for half of America's sugar supply.
Back to the Supreme Court case, oral argument is slated to begin on April 27, 2010. With Breyer recused and Thomas opting not to recuse, the bench appears to be heavily tilted to Monsanto.
Once more with feeling. Fox, meet henhouse.