Protecting Organic From GE Contamination - Organic Trade Association
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Protecting Organic From GE Contamination


The Organic Trade Association has called for a moratorium on the use of genetically engineered (GE) organisms in all agricultural production, and for mandatory labeling of GMO foods since 2000. In July, 2011 OTA’s Board of Directors reviewed, revised and voted to adopt an updated policy position on GMOs. Read OTA’s official position here.

November 20, 2012
The national Just Label It campaign continues to gear up its efforts seeking labeling for genetically engineered (GE) foods. Among the efforts is a new celebrity video in which Emmy Award winners Michael J. Fox and Julie Bowen of ABC’s Modern Family lead an all-star cast of entertainers calling on the U.S. government to require labeling of GE foods.

November 13, 2012
California’s Proposition 37, which would have required clear labels on genetically engineered (GE) food, was defeated on the Nov. 6 ballot following a $45 million opposition campaign. Supporters of the measure, however, have pledged to continue their campaign nationally to enact labeling requirements for GE food despite the setback in California. In a posting Nov. 6 before voting results were in, Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the Just Label It campaign, noted that “Ultimately, labeling of GE foods will be resolved at the federal level….This battle is just warming up.”  On Nov. 8, a new coalition—GMO Inside—launched its campaign to bring greater awareness to consumers nationwide about the dangers of GMOs and to educate them on what they can do to make a change. The GMO Inside campaign has launched on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and is signing up supporters on its website.  GMO Inside steering committee members include Food Democracy Now!, Green America, Institute for Responsible Technology, Foodbabe, Nature’s Path and Nutiva.

October 30, 2012
The Yes on 37 campaign has released a new video featuring children declaring that they are not lab rats. The campaign is encouraging folks to share this, particularly to Mom blogger networks.

May 7, 2012
Over 2,000 vegetable growers and processors have petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct an environmental impact statement on the cumulative effects of all synthetic auxin tolerant crops, including Dow Chemical’s 2,4-D tolerant corn and GE soybeans from Monsanto.
More details are available from Save Our Crops Coalition.

May 5, 2012
A major milestone on the GMO labeling front was achieved when the California Right to Know campaign filed 971,126 signatures to place an initiative on the state’s November ballot. The initiative, if approved by voters, will require labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. The signatures, gathered in a ten-week period, are nearly double the 555,236 signatures required to qualify for the ballot. As a result, California is the first state to gather enough signatures to put the issue on its statewide ballot this fall. If the ballot passes in November, Californians will join citizens in over 40 countries in the world, including all of Europe, Japan, and even China who have the right to know whether they are buying and eating GE food. Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group, previewed this good news last month during OTA’s Policy Conference.

April 16, 2012
A coalition of farm interests led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association on March 28 filed a Notice of Appeal challenging Judge Naomi Buchwald’s Feb. 24 ruling dismissing its lawsuit challenging Monsanto’s patents on genetically engineered seed technologies. The plaintiffs, who are organic or committed to farming without genetically engineered seeds, fear that trespass from Monsanto’s GE seed or crops will contaminate their crops, and will be viewed by Monsanto as illegal possession resulting in patent infringement allegations. The original lawsuit was filed on March 29, 2011. 
More details about the lawsuit are available here.

March 27, 2012
The Just Label It campaign announced that more than one million comments—a record-setting achievement—had been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeking mandatory labeling for all genetically engineered (GE) products in the marketplace. Information shared by the campaign in a webinar is available on the 
campaign’s website. Results from a new survey conducted by The Mellman Group and unveiled during the webinar showed that consumer support for GE labeling of foods is nearly unanimous. OTA partnered on JLI campaign and mobilized its consumer lists to contact the FDA.

February 6, 2012
On Nov. 10, the California Right To Know organization filed the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act with the California State Attorney General. This ballot initiative, if passed by a majority of California voters in November, will require labeling for foods containing genetically engineered ingredients sold in California retail outlets.
For more information, go to the initiative’s website. Meanwhile, efforts are under way within the Washington State Legislature for a GE labeling bill. Currently, State Senators Chase, Nelson, Shin, Keiser, Rofles and Conway are sponsoring a bill (SB 6298) to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This bill requires that by July 2014 all GE raw foods be labeled with the words “genetically engineered,” and processed foods carry a label stating the product may contain GE ingredients, and name those ingredients on the label. Rep Cary Condotta is also sponsoring a similar bill (HR 2637) in the State House of Representatives. In late January, the Washington State House and Senate agriculture committees held hearings on these GE labeling bills. In addition, efforts are under way in Vermont to seek GE food labeling. VT Right to Know GMOs, a coalition of consumer, public health, agricultural and environmental groups, is working to pass H. 722, the VT Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. The Act would require food sold at retail outlets in Vermont to be labeled if it is genetically engineered, or produced with GMOs. This Act has been introduced has been introduced in the Vermont House of Representatives, where committee testimony is anticipated to take place in late February.

Jan 25, 2012
In a letter dated Jan. 25, 2012, OTA filed a comment to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) seeking a 60-day extension beyond the February 27 deadline for comments to APHIS’s proposed deregulation and draft environmental assessment on DOW AgroScience LLC’s corn genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicides 2,4-D and quizalofop (2,4-D corn). The herbicide 2,4,D is a major component of Agent Orange. Read OTA’s comment here. OTA’s comment supports the 60-day extension requested by The Center for Food Safety.

October 31, 2011
The State of Ohio today agreed that it will no longer pursue regulations limiting labeling on organic dairy products. Ohio had attempted to prohibit statements on labels which informed consumers that organic dairy products are produced without antibiotics, pesticides or synthetic hormones. After the Organic Trade Association (OTA) sued the State of Ohio, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with consumers’ right to know and gutted the Ohio rule, finding that it was unconstitutional. Ohio has now agreed to abandon the rule rather than trying to revive it, recognizing that the First Amendment allows organic dairy products to proudly state that they are produced in accordance with the organic standards, without the use of synthetic growth hormones, pesticides, or antibiotics. Click here to view the settlement agreement document.

October 4, 2011
OTA has partnered with the "Just Label It: We Have A Right to Know" campaign and has signed a petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calling for labels on products that use genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. The Just Label It campaign provides a simple way to submit comments to FDA in support of the petition and stay up to date on the labeling initiative. The site also offers education tools to get informed about GE foods, the benefits of labeling foods, and ways to stay engaged through blogs and social media. Click here to sign the petition to FDA.

August 30, 2011
The Organic Trade Association has published a White Paper on challenges posed to the organic sector by genetically engineered crops. Download OTA’s GMO White Paper here.

July 6, 2011
The USDA has exempted a genetically engineered grass from federal regulation. The department said that an herbicide-tolerant Kentucky bluegrass was not subject to federal regulation because its creation did not entail use of any plant pests. The genetically engineered bluegrass contains a gene that allows it to tolerate the widely used herbicide Roundup, also known as glyphosate. That allows the chemical to be sprayed to kill weeds without harming the grass. Read more.

July 5, 2011
At the annual Codex Alimentarius Commission summit in Geneva July 4-9, 2011, more than 100 countries voted to adopt official Codex text regarding genetically modified (GM) labeling guidance, thus allowing it to move forward to become official Codex text. As a result, any country adopting GM food labeling will no longer face the threat of a legal challenge from the World Trade Organization because national measures based on Codex guidance or standards cannot be challenged as a barrier to trade. The guidance document does not mandate labeling, nor is any country obligated to adopt the guidance. However, the guidance allows countries to make known to consumers via labeling that a food was produced using modern biotechnology.

July 1, 2011
Bayer will pay $750 million to settle claims with about 11,000 United States farmers who said a strain of the company’s genetically modified rice tainted crops and ruined their export value. The settlement ends scores of lawsuits filed against the Bayer CropScience unit of the company by farmers in Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi. The Agriculture Department said in August 2006 that trace amounts of the company’s experimental LibertyLink strain were found in long-grain rice. Within four days, declining rice futures cost growers about $150 million, according to a complaint filed by the farmers. News of the contamination caused futures prices to fall about 14 percent. 
Read More.

June 24, 2011
USDA has announced the 22 members of its reactivated Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21). Among the appointees are six organic representatives, five of whom are OTA staff or from OTA member companies: Laura Batcha (OTA’s Executive Vice President), Charles Benbrook (Chief Scientist, The Organic Center), Lynn Clarkson (farmer and President, Clarkson Grain Company), Michael Funk (Chairman of UNFI), Melissa Hughes (Corporate Counsel and Director of Government Affairs for Organic Valley Family of Farms), and Mary-Howell R. Martens, farmer and Manager of Lakeview Organic Grain LLC.

June 23, 2011
The House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Rural Development, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture held a hearing on biotechnology in agriculture.  OTA worked with Members of the Subcommittee to be sure the negative impacts of GMOs on the organic industry were recognized. For a summary of the hearing, click here.

June 3, 2011
OTA’s Executive Director, Christine Bushway, delivered the plenary presentation at the Slow Living Summit, a sustainability conference in Brattleboro, VT to a crowd of two hundred people. In addition to providing an organic market update, she addressed the growing presence of GMOs in our food supply and how OTA is engaged in fighting the proliferation of GMOS to protect farmer and consumer choice. Follow the tweets here.

May 20, 2011
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a summary order dismissing Monsanto’s appeal of a lower court finding that a rigorous Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets is needed before USDA makes any decision regarding the GE crop’s future commercial use. In August 2010, after a year of litigation, a federal court judge court had thrown out USDA’s earlier approval of the crop and halted planting. When Monsanto appealed this ruling, plaintiffs Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Organic Seeds, supported by OTA and other organic interests as amici curiae, argued that the federal district court had not abused its discretion when ruling that the continued unlawful release of Roundup Ready sugar beets would likely cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and the organic industry as a whole. In dismissing the appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of farmers and conservation advocates. During the appeal, USDA approved planting of GE sugar beets for 2011 and 2012 under the terms of a novel permitting and partial deregulation scheme. That decision is subject of separate litigation that is ongoing in the District of Columbia. USDA has said it expects to complete the EIS and decide on commercialization in 2012.


May 11, 2011
USDA published a notice in the federal register regarding Monsanto's petition to grant deregulated status to its drought tolerant GE corn MON 8760. USDA is accepting comments on the petition and proposed determination for the deregulation of the GE corn, the draft Environmental Assessment (EA), and whether MON 87640 poses a plant pest risk assessment. APHIS is considering the following alternatives: (1) Take no action (i.e. APHIS would not change the regulatory status of corn event MON 87460 and it would continue to be a regulated article), or (2) approve the petition based on a determination of the nonregulated status of corn MON 87460 in whole. OTA will be working with its GMO task force in analyzing the petition and draft EA, developing comments, and planning to mobilize public comments.

April 22, 2011
COTA's Matthew Holmes wrote a response to the article "Alfalfa a key battleground in organic farming war". The Letter to the Editor takes a stance against 'Roundup Ready' alfalfa and questions the intentions of Monsanto. Holmes highlights that the GE risk to farmers, 'organic farmers especially, is disproportionately severe'.

March 23, 2011 - Ottawa
COTA’s Executive Director Matthew Holmes met with Canadian Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable Gerry Ritz and raised concerns of industry. Specifically, Holmes relayed concerns on the impact of GE crops on organic agriculture, issues relating to draft "low-level presence policy" and the need for long-term funding for organic standards and labelling.

March 22, 2011 - Winnipeg
COTA’s Matthew Holmes attended Canada's Organic Value Chain Roundtable, an advisory group to the Government of Canada, where he chaired the Regulatory Working Group and presentation and discussion on a major commissioned by the OVCRT on the impacts of GE products on the organic industry and trade.

Feb. 11, 2011
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has deregulated Syngenta's “3272 Amylase Corn Trait,” a type of corn which will be easier to convert to ethanol, though it is also approved for food use.  The enzyme amylase makes it easier to break down corn starch.  Interestingly, the North American Miller’s Association—with powerful members such as General Mills, Con Agra Mills, and ADM Mills, was strongly opposed to the move, saying that "USDA has failed to provide the public with sufficient scientific data on the economic impacts of contamination on food production, or information on how USDA will ensure Syngenta's compliance with a stewardship plan," and noting that “Syngenta's own scientific data released last month shows if this corn is co-mingled with other corn, it will have significant adverse impacts on food product quality and performance.”  According to the New York Times, the association said that “Syngenta’s own data indicated that as little as one amylase corn kernel mixed with 10,000 conventional kernels could be enough to weaken the corn starch and disrupt food processing operations.“

Feb, 7, 2011
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made the decision to continue to allow planting of St Louis based-Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets despite a court order to complete a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before making any decision on deregulation for genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets. The crop in question is genetically altered to tolerate increased application of toxic herbicides. Astoundingly, this decision comes one week after the USDA decision to release Roundup Ready alfalfa without restriction. Monsanto owns both the Roundup herbicide and the genetically altered crops.
Read OTA’s press release.

Feb. 1, 2011
Members of the organic industry wrote a joint letter in opposition to the USDA decision to allow unlimited, nationwide commercial planting of Monsanto's genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa, despite the many risks to organic and conventional farmers.
Read more.

February 2011
COTA coordinated letters from the public and industry to Government in relation to bill C-474. The letters highlighted information on the issues and asked the sector to act today and take a stance against GMO’s

Jan. 31, 2011
OTA launched an action alert to encourage consumers to contact the White House and demand that President Obama protect consumer and farmer choice.
Take action.

Jan. 27, 2011
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) call USDA’s announcement that the agency will completely remove current regulations limiting use of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa as “a setback for the nation’s organic and conventional agriculture sectors.”
Read their complete statement.

Jan. 27, 2011
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced plans to allow commercial planting of Forage Genetics International’s (FGI) Glyphosate-Tolerant Alfalfa genetically engineered to tolerate St. Louis-based Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide without any federal requirements to prevent contamination of the rest of alfalfa seed and plantings. The genetically engineered technology is licensed exclusively to the seed maker FGI by Monsanto. The expected impact of this decision is far reaching, particularly to organic farmers.
Read more.

Jan. 26, 2011
OTA has joined other organic companies and interests to
sign on as amici curiae to a lawsuit filed by plaintiffs Center for Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Organic Seeds against defenders Ag Secretary Tomas J. Vilsack and Monsanto Company et al. concerning the latter’s appeal claiming the district court abused its discretion when ruling that the continued unlawful release of Roundup Ready sugar beets would likely cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and the organic industry as a whole. Outlining the many instances when GE crops have already had catastrophic consequences for markets for organic or GE-free crops, the filing concludes that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its ruling.

Jan. 20, 2011
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committee on Jan. 20 held a member forum questioning Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) authority in considering deregulation with conditions for Monsanto’s Roudup Ready alfalfa. OTA submitted a comprehensive comment to Secretary Vilsack and issued a
press release calling for organic farmers to be protected in the marketplace. OTA insists that any solution protect seed purity for organic farmers’ use, provide compensation to organic farmers in the event of losses due to contamination, and require USDA oversight of GE crop commercialization to protect all U.S. agricultural sectors.

January 5, 2011
Following the USDA forum to discuss coexistence among agricultural sectors as USDA contemplates its strategy for possible deregulation of GE alfalfa, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack issued a letter to stakeholders calling for a new paradigm based on cooperation and coexistence. In response, OTA’s Executive Director and CEO Christine Bushway sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack outlining OTA’s willingness for dialog but also stressing OTA’s belief that in order to have meaningful coexistence, policy decisions regarding GE regulation should shift the costs related to inadvertent contamination from the organic and non-GE sectors to the patent holders of the GE crops, protect organic seed crops, and assure implementation of requirements to avoid contamination in the first place.
Click here to read Bushway’s letter to the Secretary.

January 2011
To address the challenges posed by the growing threat from GE crops, OTA formed a GMO task force to help shape a new comprehensive GMO policy for OTA. Among the safeguards that OTA believes need to be seriously addressed include assignment of liability and a system for compensation for losses due to inadvertent contamination; compensation for the organic industry’s costs of testing and commingling prevention throughout the supply chain; preservation of seed stock supply and genetic diversity; comprehensive environmental, public health and socio-economic assessments prior to deregulation; retention of regulatory authority by USDA after deregulation of GE crops, and labeling of GE crops and product ingredients. The GMO Task force is currently working to inform OTA’s developing White Paper on the impact of deregulated GM crops on organic agriculture and to inform OTA’s drafting of an updated official GE policy for review and adoption by the Board of Directors.

December 20, 2010
OTA Executive Director Christine Bushway attended a stakeholder meeting on GE coexistence at the USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C.  Stakeholders represented different interests and viewpoints in the organic, GE, and non-GE agriculture sectors, as well as various consumer interests. The USDA
press release and meeting transcript are available. 

December 6, 2010:

OTA has submitted a comment to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to urge that no decision on deregulating GE sugar beets be made without the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement.

December 1, 2010:
The Federal District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco has ruled against action taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to allow planting of a GE sugar beet seed crop despite an earlier court ruling that APHIS needed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before such plantings occur. As a result, the court has ordered that the stecklings planted illegally be removed from the ground. The Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Sierra Club in early September had filed the lawsuit after USDA announced that APHIS would begin issuing seedling production this fall. In August, Judge Jeffrey White had stopped the deregulation of the GE sugar beet variety. Read relevant excerpts from the court ruling here (OTA Members Only Resource).

Oct 19, 2010 - Ottawa
COTA coordinated Parliament Day conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa as part of National Organic Week. The event united the organic sector and allowed them to reach out to elected MPs to raise awareness on the threat GE poses to the sector.

October 5th, 2010
COTA’s Executive Director Matthew Holmes appeared as a witness before Canada's Parliamentary House Standing Committee on Agriculture. The committee was hearing industry testimony on private member Bill C-474. Holmes spoke in support of the Bill and related measures that would provide the organic sector with better safeguards against market loss from GE contamination.

September 15, 2010:
The debate surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is heating up in Congress.  Discussions regarding Roundup Ready Alfalfa, and Genetically Engineered Salmon are active on the Hill as the Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, respectively, consider rules that allow production of these organisms.  In a recent Senate Agriculture Committee hearing entitled “The National Organic Law at 20:  Sowing Seeds for a Bright Future”, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked the panel what impact GMOs may have on the organic industry and conventional farmers that market their products as GMO free.  The below clip from the hearing contains the questions and the answers regarding GMOs. 

August 23, 2010:
An article "Can Genetically Engineered and Organic Crops Coexist?" in Choices magazine by Catherine Greene and Katherine Smith reviews evidence that consumer demand has led to markets for products differentiated on some basis of GE status, and that maintaining the integrity of those differentiated product markets relies on interventions such as physical distancing or product segregation. They find, at present, the costs required to support the coexistence of all markets is borne disproportionately by producers and consumers of organic food in the United States. Read more. 

August 13, 2010:

A federal district court judge revoked the government’s approval of genetically engineered sugar beets, saying that the Agriculture Department had not adequately assessed the environmental consequences before approving them for commercial cultivation. Read The New York Times article here.

July 29, 2010:

OTA has hand-delivered a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking that GE alfalfa remain prohibited from being planted until comprehensive research concludes that the organic system will not be harmed. This is in support of OTA's work over the past year to prevent the planting of GE alfalfa. The letter is posted here.

July 19, 2010:

In a bipartisan request organized by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), seventy-five
members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary
Tom Vilsack on July 16, asking USDA to partially deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa to allow fall 2010 planting of inventoried seed. The request comes almost one month after the Supreme Court's decided to strike down the injunction issued in the 9th Circuit Count's 2007 ruling which had stopped further planting.

June 23, 2010:
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), have responded to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Draft Environmental Impact Statement finding of “no significant impact” from the use of genetically engineered alfalfa. OTA officially thanks Leahy and DeFazio, along with the 56 additional members of the House and Senate, for urging USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to retain the regulated status of GE alfalfa.

June 22, 2010:
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has introduced three bills regarding genetically engineered food.  The bills focus on the public's right to know if their food contains GE products, stringent testing of new GE products, and making the technology companies liable for their GE products.
The language for the bills has not been posted, but the highlights can be seen in the “Dear Colleague” letter that Rep. Kucinich sent to Members of Congress asking them to be cosponsors. 

June 21, 2010:
The Center for Food Safety celebrated the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Monsanto v. Geerston Farms, the first genetically modified crop case ever brought before the Supreme Court.  Although the High Court decision reverses parts of the lower courts’ rulings, the judgment holds that a vacatur bars the planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Alfalfa until and unless future deregulation occurs. 
The Center for Food Safety is celebrating the ruling as a victory for the Farmers and Consumers it represents.

May 18, 2010:
Representative DeFazio (D-OR4) and Senator Leahy (D-VT) are circulating a letter to their colleagues asking United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Vilsack to maintain the ban on genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa seed. The letter emphasizes that the deregulation of GE alfalfa would create significant economic losses to organic dairy producers, and would jeopardize consumer trust in the integrity of the USDA organic seal.
Read the bicameral “Dear Colleague” letter, and associated letter to Secretary Vilsack.

Those in favor of allowing GE Alfalfa production to resume have sent a letter to USDA asking that the ban be lifted because it would provide dairy farmers a $100 per acre per year financial benefit.  Their letter and talking points, which were cirulated in opposition to the DeFazio/Leahy letter, can be seen here.

April 20, 2010:
OTA has
signed on with more than 80 groups to urge FDA and USDA to change the U.S. position on food labeling

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, and more than 80 farmers, public health, environmental, and organic food organizations today sent a letter to Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Food at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and to Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), expressing serious concerns that a proposed U.S. position on food labeling would create major problems for American producers who want to label their products as free of genetically modified (GM)/genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.

April 5, 2010:
OTA has
signed-on to an amicus brief in the GE alfalfa case. OTA's interest in the case is:

OTA believes that organic stakeholders livelihoods will be harmed by the release of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa into the environment.

This is a Supreme Court case about the release of Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” Alfalfa.  After USDA originally approved the genetically engineered crop, the Center for Food Safety sued on behalf of farmers and allied organizations. In 2007, the court agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered more analysis on the crop’s impacts. In the interim, the court halted any further planting. The main impact the court ordered USDA go back and analyze was the harm to conventional and organic farmers from transgenic contamination: the likelihood of cross-pollination between fields and feral sources by wild and managed bees, the mixing of seeds and other means. It was because of this loss to farmers from unwanted transgenic contamination of their ability to sow the crop of their choice (and potential lost markets such as organic or exports) that the Court also halted the planting. The court of appeals twice affirmed the district court’s decision in 2008 and 2009. In January of this year, despite even the government’s opposition, Monsanto was able to get the Supreme Court to take the case.

This is the first time ever a court has recognized a farmer’s right to choose in this legal context.  It is the first time a court has held transgenic contamination as an injury with legal consequences in this context and issued an injunction.  The court concluded that the threat of irreparable harm to conventional and organic alfalfa farmers of the loss of the ability to grow non-GE alfalfa outweighed the solely economic harm to Monsanto.  The Supreme Court could reverse all of those legal conclusions.  It could rule that contamination harm is not enough to gain an injunction, or that the balance of the equities should have favored Monsanto and its allied partners.  It could rule that even if a crop is ruled illegally approved, as in this case, that a court could not halt the planting until proper analysis of its impact is done.

January 2009
COTA's Matthew Holmes was featured in "The Walrus" Magazine." The article, titled 'Do you know what you're eating?', focused on the need for labelling of GE products. Holmes spoke of the absence of GMO labelling as 'threatening the one growing system that offers a sustainable alternative to standard agriculture'.

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