The recent Supreme Court decision on the Roundup Ready Alfalfa case (PDF) has drawn a mixture of reactions from the mainstream media, and from the Blogosphere. To help us better understand this decision, CUpS sat down with Craig Johnston, professor of environmental law at Lewis & Clark Law School, and the lead author (on behalf of the NRDC) of one of the briefs presented to the Supreme Court in this case.
Alfalfa is the fourth largest cash crop, and is conventionally grown on over 20 million acres of land throughout the US. A member of the legume family, alfalfa is an important forage crop for livestock, and also for commercial seed production. The concern of some farmers, both conventional and organic alfalfa growers, is that through open pollination (principally from plants grown to produce commercial seed that must be allowed to bloom), the plants would be susceptible to cross contamination from the pollen of nearby genetically engineered (transgenic) alfalfa plants. The potential for gene flow (cross contamination between transgenic and non-transgenic varieties) was considered a possible outcome of the unrestricted regulation of Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA), and potentially, a catastrophic environmental threat to non-transgenic alfalfa seed growers. The other environmental concern was the possible transfer of the Roundup resistance to native populations of weeds, requiring the use of more toxic herbicides for future weed control.