Politics of the Plate: Roundup Ready—or Not?

A court decision comes as good news for opponents of genetically modified crops. But is it the beginning of a political sea change, or just a blip?

Late last month, over objections from the giant agrichemical and seed company Monsanto, a United States Court of Appeals in Los Angeles upheld a 2007 injunction that banned the planting of the company’s Roundup Ready alfalfa nationwide. The plant is genetically modified to survive being sprayed by the popular weed-killer Roundup, another Monsanto product.

The court determined that the USDA acted wrongly when it unconditionally deregulated Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2005 without preparing the required environmental impact statement. The injunction is to remain in effect until scientific assessment can show that the new crop does not harm the environment.

That decision came after seed companies and environmental groups sued to prevent the GM crop from being planted, claiming that there was a danger that unintentional cross-pollination would contaminate conventional alfalfa.

“This ruling affirms a major victory for consumers, ranchers, organic farmers, and most conventional farmers across the country,” Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety, one of the litigants, said in a press release.

The alfalfa case is similar to a still-to-be-decided suit brought against the USDA over its decision to allow the planting of GM sugar beets. In March, the judge of that case asked the Justice Department if there had been any change in the government’s position. To the disappointment of the Center for Food Safety and other groups, the Obama administration said it intended to continue the Bush-era policies on GM beets.

The alfalfa decision certainly has not dampened Monsanto’s enthusiasm for GM products. Earlier this week, to cheers from the agribusiness community, the firm announced that it would redouble its research efforts into GM wheat, which had been for the most part shelved since 2004. Monsanto put its money where its mouth is earlier this month when it bought WestBred, a company that specializes in wheat genetics.

It seems like the company is betting pretty heavily that, at least when it comes to GM crops, political change is not on the way.

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