In the first-ever genetically-modified (GMO) crop case to reach the Supreme Court, Monsanto came out the big loser. Monsanto is barred from planting Round-up Ready alfalfa unless future deregulation occurs. Leading the case against Monsanto was Andrew Kimbrell, an attorney and Executive Director of the San Francisco-based Center for Food Safety .
"Biological pollution cannot be recalled," noted Kimbrell in a talk I attended last spring.
Not only is this a victory against GMO alfalfa; it is a victory against all future genetically engineered crops. This decision means that new GMO crops cannot be planted until a full safety assessment is conducted.
In the case of alfalfa, the first perennial GMO crop, the Supreme Court concurred with the Center for Food Safety that the risk was too high: honeybees can contaminate all other alfalfa -- organic, wild or conventional -- with Monsanto-owned genes. “The Court’s decision affirmed that the threat of genetic contamination of natural plants posed by biotech crops is an issue of significant environmental concern now and in the future,” Kimbrell said.
GMO alfalfa could have wiped out the entire organic alfalfa business and could have affected the biggest consumer of alfalfa: organic cows. Since alfalfa is a key source of dairy forage, a question could arise: if organic dairy cows ate GMO-contaminated alfalfa, would they yield organic milk?
Though alfalfa is not consumed directly by humans, except in the case of alfalfa sprouts, who is to say that milk from cows fed GMO alfalfa would be safe for human consumption? GMO crops have been proven to cause reproductive harm in animals, says GMO expert Jeffery Smith , which raises serious concerns about the effect of GMOs on human fertility. Could GMO alfalfa set off a destructive domino effect on human health via cow milk? No one knows, and that persistent doubt about future environmental and human safety is what influenced the Supreme Court.
“The Justices’ decision today means that the selling and planting of Roundup Ready Alfalfa is illegal. The ban on the crop will remain in place until a full and adequate EIS is prepared by USDA and they officially deregulate the crop. This is a year or more away according to the agency, and even then, a deregulation move may be subject to further litigation if the agency’s analysis is not adequate,” said Kimbrell. “In sum, it's a significant victory in our ongoing fight to protect farmer and consumer choice, the environment and the organic industry.”
NB: The Center for Food Safety noted that the Monsanto PR team is busy spinning the result of the decision into stories like this one in BusinessWeek.