Supreme Court Rules Both Ways on GM Seed Ban

Supreme Court lifts modified seeds ban, upholds injunction banning their sale.

ByABC News
June 25, 2010, 4:18 PM

June 27, 2010— -- Both sides are claiming victory in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on genetically engineered seeds. Ruling 7-1 in favor of Monsanto, a major seed supplier, the high court reversed a lower court's injunction banning the sale of genetically modified alfalfa seeds. At the same time, the Court upheld a ruling that bans the sale of GM alfalfa.

So, who won, and when will cows munch on GM alfalfa?

Monsanto won the battle, but environmentalists landed some hard blows; next summer is the earliest the still-banned seeds could be planted. Numerically, the justices came down firmly on Monsanto's side. But in their decision the high court focused on the legality of the ban, not on the legality of the seeds.

GM alfalfa is still banned (the goal of Monsanto's opponents), and will remain so until the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the wing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that oversees biotech crops, conducts a review.

In an email about the Supreme Court's Monday decision, APHIS said they hope to complete their review "in time for the spring planting of alfalfa crops in 2011." That's if there are no more lawsuits or injunctions. A 2009 review of the seeds by APHIS showed no significant harm, but the agency still has to comb through more than 200,000 public comments about the issue before it can rule.

Montsanto is crowing over the Supreme Court's decision. Steve Welker, Monsanto's alfalfa business lead, said, "this is exceptionally good news received in time for the next planting season. Farmers have been waiting to hear this for quite some time. We have Roundup Ready alfalfa seed ready to deliver and await USDA guidance on its release. Our goal is to have everything in place for growers to plant in fall 2010."

Not so fast, said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety, a plaintiff in the case. In an article in the Huffington Post, Kimbrell writes that "while the High Court ruled in favor of Monsanto by reversing an injunction that was part of the lower court's decision, more importantly, it also ruled that the ban on GMO alfalfa remains intact, and that the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa remains illegal."