06.21.10

Comment On The Supreme Court’s Decision In Monsanto v. Geerston Seed Farms

The Supreme Court today issued a decision in Monsanto v. Geerston Seed Farms.  In its first ruling on genetically modified crops, the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision upholding a district court injunction and removed a temporary ban on planting a breed of pesticide-resistant alfalfa.  The genetically modified crop was approved for use by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) after it determined that a formal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was not necessary.  The district court disagreed and ordered the USDA to conduct the full study after finding sufficient evidence that the genetically modified crop could contaminate alfalfa in neighboring fields, creating a “significant possibility of serious environmental harm” and decimating farmers’ livelihoods and the American alfalfa market for years to come.  The district court imposed a temporary ban on the crop until the EIS could be completed, and the Ninth Circuit deferred to the district court’s findings. The Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit and district court in a 7-1 decision, holding that the USDA’s abbreviated environmental assessment had satisfied the review requirements imposed by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).

I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision today in Monsanto.  Once again, it appears that the Court is siding with big business, putting the interests of corporations ahead of hardworking Americans, specifically farmers, as well as the environment.  Congress has worked for years to pass laws to protect the environment, and this decision is the latest in a line of Supreme Court decisions reducing the effectiveness of those protections.

In passing the landmark National Environmental Policy Act, Congress sought to ensure that federal agencies appropriately consider the environmental consequences of deregulation by conducting environmental impact studies. In holding that the USDA did not need to conduct a full environmental impact study before authorizing the use of a new genetically modified seed, the Court has undermined congressional efforts to protect organic and conventional farmers and the environment.  I believe the decision erroneously approves Monsanto’s argument for a dangerous pollute-first, investigate-second approach to enforcing federal environmental laws.

Justice Stevens in his dissent clearly understands that “Congress recognized in NEPA that complex environmental cases often require exceptionally sophisticated scientific determinations, and that agency decisions should not be made on the basis of ‘incomplete information.’”  In enjoining the use of the genetically modified seeds, the district court acted with exactly the sort of caution that Congress sought, and which the Supreme Court unfortunately rejected.

I am deeply concerned about the economic impact of contamination from genetically engineered crops on this country’s farmers and the environment.  In today’s decision, the Court ignored that economic harm and issued a blow to congressional efforts to protect our fragile environment.

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