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

Video Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South 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.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs