MAY was an interesting month for Monsanto, the world's largest seed and crop trait company.
In addition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's May 29 announcement of the possible detection of genetically engineered (GE) wheat in an Oregon field, Monsanto also won two major legal victories and was the target of a global protest effort.
While the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Bowman vs. Monsanto drew much of the public attention on the company's legal efforts (Feedstuffs, May 20), Monsanto also earned a victory the same week before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Center for Food Safety vs. Vilsack.
In an opinion issued May 17, the circuit court affirmed a lower court ruling that USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) acted appropriately in deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa, the company's glyphosate-resistant GE alfalfa product.
"The panel held that the Plant Protection Act does not regulate the type of harms that the plaintiffs complain of, and therefore, (APHIS) correctly concluded that Roundup Ready alfalfa was not a 'plant pest' under the act," the court's summary of the ruling explained.
Furthermore, because the product is not a plant pest, USDA was not obligated to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act or to consider alternatives under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Outside the court of law, Monsanto did not fare so well in the court of public opinion. Prior to USDA's announcement regarding Roundup Ready wheat, protests were held against the company and the GE crops it produces and markets.
According to the Associated Press, "March Against Monsanto" protests were held in 52 countries and 436 cities, with some estimates suggesting that as many as 2 million people participated. In U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, Cal., protesters clamored for laws forcing food companies to label any products containing GE ingredients.
Sparked by a Facebook page established in early February, the rally and its organizers condemned the company for "poisoning our children and poisoning our planet," despite consistent determinations from regulatory entities — including USDA and the Food & Drug Administration — that foods derived from GE crops are no different from their conventionally produced counterparts in terms of food safety or nutrition.