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

VOA Exclusive: Interview With Myanmar President Thein Sein

Thein Sein calls allegations that minority Muslim Rohingya are fleeing alleged torture in Rakhine state a media fabrication More

Video Better Protective Suit Sought for Ebola Caregivers

Current suit is uncomfortable, requires too many steps for removal, increasing chance of deadly contact with virus More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week 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.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid