US Supreme Court overturns ban on GM crop

Activists protest against US biotech giant Monsanto in Germany in 2009
Activists protest against a request by US biotech giant Monsanto against Germany's decision to ban a type of genetically modified maize, in Braunschweig, northern Germany, in 2009. The US Supreme Court has overturned a decision to ban biotech giant Monsanto's sale of genetically modified alfalfa despite farmers' fears that other crops could be contaminated.

In a landmark first ruling on genetically modified crops, the US Supreme Court overturned Monday a four-year ban on alfalfa seeds engineered by biotech giant Monsanto to resist weed killer.

A California district judge voided in 2007 the Department of Agriculture's authorization of the seeds, finding that a proper environmental review had not been conducted. The decision was upheld on appeal in 2009.

But justices voted 7-1 Monday to reverse the ruling, saying the injunction overstepped the mark and prevented the agency from carrying out a "partial deregulation" of the crop, known as Roundup Resistant Alfalfa (RRA).

"We agree that the district court's injunction against planting went too far," Justice Samuel Alito wrote. "In sum, the District Court abused its discretion."

Opponents of RRA claim it could cross pollinate with conventional alfalfa seeds and other neighboring crops, promoting "super-weeds" with a tolerance to the Roundup herbicide.

"Until APHIS (the DoA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) seeks to effect a partial deregulation, any judicial review of such a decision is premature," the Supreme Court said.

"The district court barred the agency from pursuing any deregulation, no matter how limited the geographic area in which planting of RRA would be allowed."

Justices ordered APHIS to carry out the long-awaited study and referred the case back to the lower courts.

Their decision that no new claims should be filed until the study is complete opens the way for the government to allow Monsanto to resume the limited sale and planting of genetically modified alfalfa seeds.

"Until such time as the agency decides whether and how to exercise its regulatory authority, however, the courts have no cause to intervene," the ruling said.

Plaintiffs, who are organic farmers supported by organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity, worry that genetically modified seeds will contaminate their crops.

Monsanto took the fight all the way to the highest court in the land, arguing that the federal court did not have authority to block the alfalfa seed sales. Alfalfa is the fourth most popular crop grown in the United States.

In a hearing in April, justices had appeared skeptical of the ban and questioned whether the environmental impact could have been properly assessed before the completion of the environmental impact study.

Judge Antonin Scalia minimized potential risks saying, "This is not the contamination of the New York city water supply. This isn't the end of the world. It really isn't."

The ninth justice, Stephen Breyer, had to recuse himself from the case because the judge who gave the initial ruling against Monsanto in California is his brother, Charles Breyer.


Explore further

Court Denies Vonage Bid for Patent Case Retrial

(c) 2010 AFP

Citation: US Supreme Court overturns ban on GM crop (2010, June 21) retrieved 15 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2010-06-supreme-court-overturns-gm-crop.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
0 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jun 21, 2010
Monsanto already has produced and markets Roundup Ready seeds, such as soybeans and corn.

How did these seeds make into commercial use and alfalfa has not?

I'm not suggesting Roundup Ready seeds are good or bad, I'm just wondering what the difference or the danger is between Roundup Ready Alfalfa and Roundup Ready Corn in the environment.

Jun 21, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Jun 22, 2010
The Supreme Court is in the pocket of Monsanto.


Following hard upon the heels of "Citizens v United", I think that they have just demonstrated beyond a doubt that they are corporate sympathizers. Why are we not surprised?

Jul 01, 2010
Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto, as quoted in the Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994:
"If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it."


Jul 05, 2010
There are other choices. What's even better for the environment & people is organic farming. And there's no patent on that neither.

Jul 06, 2010
If migrant workers were paid minimum wage, food would be less affordable as well, organic or otherwise. Why not do the right thing for coming generations instead of just what is expedient and profitable for the few? Do we need more new products that just point us further in the direction of unsustainability?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more