News / USA

US Supreme Court Considers Genetically Modified Crops

Case questions whether environmental law has gone too far

The US Supreme Court will hear arguments involving a genetically modified variety of alfalfa designed to grow even when farmers spray it with a chemical that kills weeds.
The US Supreme Court will hear arguments involving a genetically modified variety of alfalfa designed to grow even when farmers spray it with a chemical that kills weeds.

Multimedia

Audio

For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in a case involving genetically modified crops. The crops' safety is not at issue in this case, but their potential economic impact is. The case may have ramifications beyond GM crops.

Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States. Farmers harvested 8.5 million hectares last year. The case being argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, April 27, involves a genetically modified variety of alfalfa designed by the seed and biotech company Monsanto to grow even when farmers spray it with a chemical that kills weeds. The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) approved the crop in 2005.

"From what I can see, APHIS really did not do due diligence under these regulations," says Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group. "It was so far from what it was supposed to be doing."

Pollen contamination

Gurian-Sherman says APHIS should have looked more closely, in particular, at the risk of cross-contamination. Organic alfalfa farmers contend they could lose money if wind-blown pollen from their neighbors' GM alfalfa were to contaminate their crop, because buyers would no longer consider their alfalfa organic.

Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States.
Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States.

An organic seed company took Monsanto to court over the issue. It won an injunction forcing the GM seeds off the market until APHIS does a full environmental impact study.

Monsanto appealed, saying the experts at APHIS knew what they were doing when they approved the crop without the study. The largest U.S. farmers' organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation, agrees. It says the lower court's injunction creates uncertainty that hurts farmers who grow GM crops.

"If I plant this in the ground, is a court three years down the road going to come and mess everything up and tell me I can't do it anymore?" she asks. "That costs money, just like it costs the organic farmer money if there's cross-contamination."

Out-of-control regulation...

Quist notes that the organic seed company didn't have to present any evidence that it was actually harmed before the court issued the injunction. The case was brought under a federal environmental law that she says some courts are interpreting too loosely.

"When those lawsuits are filed," she says, "harm is presumed. It's just automatic. You get to file a lawsuit and you get this extraordinary remedy without having to show the requisite level of harm, and that really needs to stop."

The case has attracted attention from other groups, including the petroleum, home building and pesticide industries, that believe the environmental law has gone too far. Along with the Farm Bureau, officials of those industries have written to the Supreme Court backing Monsanto in the lawsuit.

For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in a case involving genetically modified crops.
For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in a case involving genetically modified crops.

...or democracy in action?

On the other hand, the organic seed company's backers include the Humane Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists, whose Doug Gurian-Sherman says the ability of citizens' groups to question the decisions of regulators is one of American democracy's important checks and balances.

"If the court moves towards choking off some of those checks and balances in the form of the public's ability to challenge an agency, I think that would have some chilling effect on the operation of science in our democracy," he says.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide the case in June.

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine Could Be in Use by January

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid