GM alfalfa was originally approved in 2005, but was taken off the market after a coalition of groups took the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to court, saying that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) needed to be prepared. The groups won a temporary ban on GM alfalfa seeds, pending the preparation of an EIS by the USDA. A draft EIS has now been prepared and a comment period closed last month. The USDA found no safety concerns with Monsanto’s alfalfa, paving the way for an end to the ban.
General Counsel for Monsanto David Snively said: “This Supreme Court hearing is about farmers, fairness and choice. Farmers should be able to count on USDA approvals of biotech crops, know that challenges to biotech authorizations must be based on scientific evidence, and have the choice to use this seed technology.”
Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms is the first case involving GM crops to be heard by the Supreme Court and could have wider implications for the approval process of other GM crops, such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugarbeets, which have also faced opposition from environmental groups.
Members of the organic food industry, including Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farms, and the Organic Trade Association, have argued that overturning the lower courts’ decision would “irreparably harm” the organic dairy industry due to the risk of cross-contamination of conventional alfalfa crops, which are widely used in feed for organic dairy cattle.
Alfalfa is the fourth most commonly grown crop in the US, and according to Monsanto, one percent is currently Roundup Ready alfalfa. Under the 2007 court injunction farmers already using the GM crop were permitted to continue but any further planting was halted.
A decision in the case is expected in June.