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Beyond the Rows is a Monsanto Company blog focused on one of the world’s most important industries, agriculture. Monsanto employees write about Monsanto’s business, the agriculture industry, and the farmer.
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Roundup Ready Alfalfa and the Supreme Court – the End of GMOs?

Today, Roundup Ready Alfalfa gets its day before the U.S. Supreme Court. And thousands of farmers will be watching and waiting—including the 5,500 farmers who planted approximately 260,000 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa prior to the injunction.

This is significant because it’s the first time a biotech or genetically modified crop has gone before the high court. However, this case isn’t about the safety or the benefits of Roundup Ready alfalfa. It’s about whether the ban, or injunction, that’s currently in place is appropriate.

Roundup Ready alfalfa has been tied up in the court system. The product was commercialized in 2005, and farmers began planting it. The next year (2006), a federal lawsuit was filed by several farm, environmental and organic consumer groups. The plaintiffs’ lawsuit said the USDA failed to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). In 2007, a federal district court stopped the sale and planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa via an injunction.

That injunction or ban on the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa is what today’s arguments are about—not about the original ruling on the EIS or on the safety of the product. Monsanto and our partner, Forage Genetics International (FGI), believe that the ban was inappropriate for several reasons, including:

  • The plaintiffs could not demonstrate that continued planting of RR alfalfa was likely to cause irreparable harm to other alfalfa growers.
  • The Court declined to meaningfully consider USDA’s proposed interim solution. The solution would have allowed farmers to continue planting Roundup Ready alfalfa under specific mandatory stewardship measures.

The biggest concern from Roundup Ready alfalfa opponents is that Roundup Ready alfalfa will allegedly “contaminate” organic alfalfa, hence their reason for requesting the injunction. But this is highly unlikely based on the way alfalfa is grown and the measures that farmers put in place to prevent cross-pollination. (See Can Roundup Ready Alfalfa Coexist with Organic and Conventional Alfalfa?) In fact, the chance for cross pollination for Roundup Ready alfalfa grown for hay–which accounts for 99% of alfalfa acreage—is extremely remote with no evidence whatsoever of any organic or conventional alfalfa farmer having lost any sales resulting from alleged “contamination.”

So whose rights are at risk here? Farmers who perceive some remote risk, or farmers who are waiting to plant a product that has full approval from the USDA? A product that farmers themselves say allows for less herbicide use, higher test hay, yield increases, higher prices for cleaner hay and improved water efficiency. (“RR alfalfa growers have only high praise for biotech forage crop,” Western Farm Press)

We’ll have to wait and see.

More info:

Without RR Alfalfa, Growers Face Challenges, Hay and Forage Grower

Biotechnology and the Farmers Right to Choose, Monsanto Today

Gene Flow in Alfalfa: Biology, Mitigation and Potential Impact of Production, CAST

Roundup Ready Alfalfa – Frequently Asked Questions, USDA

5 Responses to "Roundup Ready Alfalfa and the Supreme Court – the End of GMOs?"

  1. I have to say Mica after watching Food Inc. I was appauled at the legal tactics Monsanto has used on farmers. As I googled more about Monsanto the flood gates opened up about all the problems folks have with the company. I really didn’t have much of an opinion on gmo products but after watching that movie not only did I question Monsanto’s approach to farmers and seed cleaners but perhaps they were not being fair or honest on the whole subject of gmo. They lost all credibility in my families eyes. Now I am making sure I vote with my pocket book. I will not at least knowingly buy Monsanto products like RoundUp which we have, gmo soybeans, any products with Nutrasweet or Equal to start with and the more I find out the more I will eleminate from our shopping list. Maybe you and the other companies who operate like you may think you can intimidate or threaten farmers, seed cleaners or mothers whose children have died of ecoli from bad food to keep quiet but I don’t know how you can ever afford to us all. You say you are a mom and such but my daughter has a degree in communications and she would never represent a company who has such a bad reputation. I think this blog is one sided and PR and doesn’t reflect all the issues. How about addressing Food Inc. movie?

  2. Hi Deanne –

    I’ll admit I haven’t seen all of Food Inc, but I have seen the Monsanto clips, and I can understand why people would have a negative opinion of us after viewing it. The shadowy footage, investigators sneaking around at night, suing poor farmers who can’t defend themselves, etc. I had goose bumps watching it.

    But I have to tell you that what I saw in those clips in no way, shape or form accurately represents what I know about that process. I started at Monsanto working with the small internal team that works on stewardship/saved seed. My job was to lead communications on our efforts–great first task, right?

    First, farmer lawsuits are rare, not the norm. We do business with more than 400,000 farmers in the U.S. each year. Only a handful of farmers choose to break their contract with us. We have provided details about what happens once we learn farmers may be stealing our technology in a 5-part series here:

    We also have made a public commitment on how we handle investigations:

    We’ve addressed Food Inc in a separate section on our site: http://www.monsanto.com/foodinc

    It is difficult to work in communications for a company with such a bad reputation. It is the biggest, most frustrating challenge. Some days I think it would be easier to work at a company that had a sparkling reputation (thinking something with puppies and kids?). If I were convinced that this company does the things we are accused of doing, I would be out of here faster than you could say “Food Inc.”

    As a mom, I’m not willing to put my child in daycare every day, spend 40 hours a week away from him for a company that doesn’t care about people, safety or farmers. But I come in every day feeling good about the work we’re doing because I’ve met those farmers, I’ve talked with the scientists, regulators, etc. I ask the tough questions you’re asking to the people directly involved.

    I hope you will understand there are two sides to every issue and give me a chance to answer your questions. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. Mica – it’s worth a watch, although pretty much the whole thing was cringeworthy in my mind – amusingly as the show started my wife made one simple request – “please do NOT argue with the TV”

    She lasted maybe 5-10 minutes before she started berating the whole thing for being stupid.

    Which obviously then let me unleash a little too. Which was just as well or I’m not sure I woulda been able to finish it.

    There’s a nice suspense element to it as a Monsanto employee…. each time they shift to a new topic you’re left thinking “here it is here it is” only to be disappointed by some other heavily slanted piece which may contain a grain or two (no doubt GM grain) of truth, but only extractable with a very large pinch of salt (organic for preference)

  4. The public is rapidly becoming aware of the truth. Monsanto’s efforts to pass these products off as safe or ethical are becoming more and more futile. Propaganda. No matter how much you douse it in flowery perfume, it’s still b.s. and it still wreaks…

    • More and more futile how exactly? In terms of more and more support from the peer reviewed science, or in terms of more and more time for propaganda to build from the anti-movement who do not appear to be constrained by either the need to operate in the real world or even remotely within the bounds of what is truthful (ie extrapolating from Seralini’s study that GMOs cause cancer, or from science by press release rather than by peer review (Putzai, and the recent Russian study which is seventeen different shades of crazy before it even gets published (apparently GM soy causes hamsters to grow hair in their mouths aswell as to go sterile, which you’d think everyone across the world might have picked up on already considering that practically all hamster food contains soy, and practically all soy is GM))

      I agree that the propaganda, no matter how perfumed, still stinks, more and more so as time passes it appears. I just disagree as to which side has their boots deeper in the bs.


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