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Monsanto's GM Crops Go to US High Court

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in its first-ever case involving genetically modified crops. The decision in this case may have a significant impact on both the future of genetically modified foods and government oversight of that and other environmental issues.

The case, Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, revolves around an herbicide-resistant alfalfa, the planting of which has been banned in the U.S. since a federal court prohibited the multinational Monsanto from selling the seeds in 2007.

That decision found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not do a thorough enough study of the impacts the GM alfalfa would have on human health and the environment and ordered the agency to do another environmental impact statement (EIS) review.

Though a draft was released in December, "there is no anticipated date" for the final EIS, Suzanne Bond, a spokeswoman with the USDA division charged with regulating GM organisms - the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) - told IPS.

The law under which organic farmers were allowed to challenge USDA's oversight of the GM alfalfa, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is what may suffer the most from the court's eventual decision, which is expected in June at the earliest. The law "requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions", said Bond.

It is also a key legal tool for environmental groups seeking to challenge those agencies' decisions. The vulnerability of NEPA is a key reason so many such groups have joined the plaintiffs by filing amicus briefs against Monsanto in this case.