Geertson: 'Regardless of what the Supreme Court rules, it isn't going to affect the situation'
By DAVE WILKINS
It was fitting that Phil Geertson would be in attendance when the Supreme Court of the United States heard its first case involving genetically modified crops.
The Greenleaf, Idaho, farmer was at the high court April 27 in Washington, D.C., to listen in as attorneys argued Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms.
He was there at the invitation of lawyers for the Center for Food Safety, the group that filed the original lawsuit on behalf of Geertson and other farmers opposed to Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa seed.
During Tuesday's oral arguments, the Supreme Court justices questioned the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' affirmation of an injunction that halted the sale of the biotech seeds. The justices appeared skeptical that the lower court had the authority to impose the ban, according to national press accounts.
Geertson said he wasn't discouraged by anything he heard.
"The (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California) order that overturned USDA's approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa was never questioned," he said in a telephone interview.
Roundup Ready alfalfa remains a regulated product, he said.
"They can't sell it until the USDA completes a final (environmental impact statement) and determines that it's safe," Geertson said.
He's still hopeful that USDA will decide not to deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa again. It could be another year before the agency comes out with a final determination.
In the meantime, the Supreme Court case should have no bearing on that regulatory process, he said.
"Regardless of what the Supreme Court rules, it isn't going to affect the situation any way as far as I can tell," he said.
Geertson said the high court justices at times appeared to question why they were even hearing the case.
The case is puzzling to many people, with a court case and regulatory action occurring simultaneously, he said.
"It's complicated," he said. "A lot of people are scratching their heads."
Geertson said he was looking forward to reading transcripts of the proceedings, which lasted about an hour.
It was difficult to hear all of the arguments, he said. Seating was limited.
"They don't have a lot of chairs," he said. "There was a long line of people waiting to get in and most didn't get in."
Geertson and other farmers who grow organic and conventional alfalfa varieties contend that biotech seeds from Roundup Ready varieties will cross-pollinate with their crops, destroying their markets.
Proponents of Roundup Ready alfalfa say regulations that require strict isolation distances and adherence to best management practices will ensure the integrity of certified seed crops.
There's little chance that Roundup Ready alfalfa grown for forage will contaminate conventional or organic fields as long as growers harvest before the ripe seed stage, said Mark McCaslin, co-founder of Forage Genetics International.
"That alone eliminates the potential for gene flow," McCaslin said in an April 19 interview.
Forage Genetics is the exclusive licensed seed producer of Roundup Ready alfalfa.