Saturday, May 01, 2010

Living on Earth: Round-Up Ready Alfalfa

I received an email from Jessica Ilyse Smith, journalist and producer of the Public Radio International show, Living on Earth. I am pleased to report that Jessica got my email address as a result of this blog, and I pass along her compliments on Agricultural Law.

Jessica was working on a story about the case of Monsanto Co. v Geertson Seed Farms and wanted an overview of the case and its implications. I was honored to oblige, and you can listen to the program, now available on the Living on Earth website under the Judging Biotech Seeds heading.

Monsanto Co. v Geertson Seed Farms was argued before the Supreme Court this week. Copies of all of the briefs and related information is available on the SCOTUS wiki for the case.

The case concerns Round-up Ready Alfalfa (RRA). In 2004, Monsanto and Forage Genetics petitioned the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for non-regulated status of their RRA seed so they could move forward with widespread commercial production.

In 2005, APHIS prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) on the petition and made a finding of "no significant impact" which allowed it to move forward without preparing a complete environmental impact statement. Monsanto's petition for non-regulated status was granted.

In February 2006, Geertson Seed Farms and Trask Family Farms (along with a number of environmental and farm groups and the Center for Food Safety filed suit against the Secretary of Agriculture. They alleged that APHIS had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An EIS is required under NEPA whenever a federal agency undertakes a major action that will significantly affect the environment.

The district court agreed, finding that the agency’s Environmental Assessment was inadequate. The court allowed Monsanto to join the suit and turned to the question of an appropriate remedy for the NEPA violation. APHIS agreed to prepare the EIS and proposed restrictions on the planting and handling of RRA until it could be completed. However, the district court rejected APHIS' proposal and ordered a permanent nationwide injunction against the planting of RRA. The Ninth Circuit court affirmed the District Court. Monsanto appealed to the Supreme Court, challenging the preliminary injunction.

Meanwhile APHIS proceeded with the preparation of its EIS. In December 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the availability of APHIS’ Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). APHIS extended the initial 60-day comment period on the Draft EIS for 15 days, and it closing on March 3, 2010. APHIS held public meetings in Las Vegas, NV, Kearny, NE, Lincoln, NE, and Riverdale, Md. Information on the process is available on the USDA APHIS Biotechnology Roundup Ready website. In the Draft EIS, APHIS still takes the position that non-regulated status is appropriate for RRA and that its use will not result in significant impacts to the environment.

Geertson Seed Farms and the other respondents have consistently argued that the use of RRA risks the genetic contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa and the proliferation of weeds that tolerate Roundup herbicide.

Living on Earth is commended for reporting on this important case.


Blogger JM said...

I am working on a piece for a local Washington, DC blog, highlighting the recent work of the Center for Food Safety. I want tie my article in to local issues in DC, Maryland and Virginia by discussing some of the farms that grow GE crops in the area. Do you have any idea where I might find some information on these farms or perhaps talk to some of the farmers. Free free to email me at

5/02/2010 11:22 AM  
Blogger Danl said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/02/2010 2:23 PM  
Blogger Danl said...

I am puzzled as to why this article and that of Jessica Smith fails to ask alfalfa farmers of their opinion on this subject. This is the 4th largest acreage crop in the US, and if alfalfa growers were surveyed, more than 80% would likely either want to try it, or be in favor of its legalization, since they see such benefit to their farms in improving forage and milk production. Additionally, why is there a failure to analyze the POSITIVE potential environmental benefits of this technology, along with the potential environmental risks? These are significant, including replacing herbicides that now contaminate groundwater, worker safety, and preventing deaths to animals from poisonous weeds. Where is the balance here? Are only the opinions of lawyers for anti-GMO advocacy groups or Monsanto of interest?

5/02/2010 2:36 PM  
Anonymous City4ster said...

IN reading this and the post on "Know your farmer"... it made me think that many do not understand what happens to make their food.
Has anyone ever written a piece or book showing the whole process to make an ear of corn or grow that organic lettuce... such as starting at the transactions in one year to buy seeds and materials to plant the next year... then transporting seed, storing it, planting it, growing, responding to insects, disease, chemicals used, or not used... to the all the people who harvest by hand, or by machine, then transport to broker, then to store, etc... You get the idea. There could be seperate shows for production, organic, local producers... or they could be compared along the way hoping for people to make their own decisions. It seems like many are disconnected from where their food comes from and it sounds like a Learning or Discovery Channel show

5/03/2010 4:47 PM  
Anonymous Sals said...

Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds. To fight them, Mr. Anderson and farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing. “We’re back to where we were 20 years ago,” said Mr. Anderson, who will plow about one-third of his 3,000 acres of soybean fields this spring, more than he has in years. “We’re trying to find out what works.” Farm experts say that such efforts could lead to higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs and more pollution of land and water."

5/04/2010 8:50 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home