WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme\r\nCourt will hear arguments Tuesday in its first-ever case involving\r\ngenetically modified crops. The decision in this case may have a\r\nsignificant impact on both the future of genetically modified foods and\r\ngovernment oversight of that and other environmental issues.The case, Monsanto Co.\r\nv. Geertson Seed Farms, revolves around an herbicide-resistant alfalfa,\r\nthe planting of which has been banned in the U.S. since a federal court\r\nprohibited the multinational Monsanto from selling the seeds in 2007.That\r\ndecision found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not do a\r\nthorough enough study of the impacts the GM alfalfa would have on human\r\nhealth and the environment and ordered the agency to do another\r\nenvironmental impact statement (EIS) review.Though a draft was\r\nreleased in December, \u0026quot;there is no anticipated date\u0026quot; for the final EIS,\r\nSuzanne Bond, a spokeswoman with the USDA division charged with\r\nregulating GM organisms - the Animal and Plant Health Inspection\r\nService (APHIS) - told IPS.The law under which organic farmers\r\nwere allowed to challenge USDA\u0026#039;s oversight of the GM alfalfa, the\r\nNational Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is what may suffer the most\r\nfrom the court\u0026#039;s eventual decision, which is expected in June at the\r\nearliest. The law \u0026quot;requires federal agencies to integrate environmental\r\nvalues into their decision-making processes by considering the\r\nenvironmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable\r\nalternatives to those actions\u0026quot;, said Bond.It is also a key\r\nlegal tool for environmental groups seeking to challenge those\r\nagencies\u0026#039; decisions. The vulnerability of NEPA is a key reason so many\r\nsuch groups have joined the plaintiffs by filing amicus briefs against\r\nMonsanto in this case.The Centre for Biological Diversity, one\r\nof those groups, does not normally get involved in GM issues, said the\r\nCentre\u0026#039;s Noah Greenwald, but this case \u0026quot;has broad implications for how\r\ngovernments do environmental analysis and when they need to prepare\r\nimpact statements\u0026quot;.\u0026quot;The broader implications are why we got in this,\u0026quot; he told IPS.Doug\r\nGurian-Sherman, who wrote several expert opinions for the earlier cases\r\nin lower courts and is a senior scientist at the food and environment\r\nprogramme of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has also filed an\r\namicus brief, pointed to the need for the type of citizen oversight of\r\nthe government\u0026#039;s own oversight that is granted by statutes like NEPA.\u0026quot;The\r\nbig issue here is how much deference should be given to a regulatory\r\nagency and its expertise in doing its job versus how much access or\r\ndeference should be given to the public in having the ability to\r\nchallenge the agency in court,\u0026quot; he said.\u0026quot;The issue here then\r\nbecomes how amenable is the Supreme Court going to be in terms of\r\nallowing citizens to bring suit against an agency that is not doing its\r\njob, and that I think is the gist of what this decision may be,\u0026quot; he\r\nadded.But the legal implications are only half the story. Also\r\nimplicated, at least potentially, is the future of GM crops in the U.S.\r\nand elsewhere.In the original court case, organic farmers\r\nargued that the genes of the GM alfalfa would be carried to\r\nneighbouring - potentially miles away - non-GM alfalfa by the bees that\r\npollinate the crop and that genetic contamination would hurt their\r\nability to market their alfalfa under the label \u0026quot;organic\u0026quot;. This would\r\nalso preclude them from exporting to countries that prohibit GM crops.\u0026quot;Consumers\r\nmay not accept products cross-contaminated with genetically-engineered\r\ncomponents and you can test for those and testing is done pretty\r\nroutinely and therefore the market could reject the contaminated\r\norganic crops,\u0026quot; explained Gurian-Sherman.In addition to this\r\neconomic impact, they have argued that the planting of the Roundup\r\nReady alfalfa that is at issue here, used in conjunction with the\r\nMonsanto-made herbicide Roundup, may also lead to increased\r\nherbicide-resistance in weeds.APHIS largely dismissed this as\r\nan issue in its original analysis, says Gurian-Sherman, \u0026quot;even though\r\nover the last couple years the incidence of resistant weeds and the\r\neconomic impacts they\u0026#039;re having largely contradicts APHIS\u0026#039;s analysis.\u0026quot;Though\r\nquestions over the environmental and economic impacts of growing GM\r\ncrops have existed for decades, the issue remains extremely complicated\r\nfrom an ethical and health perspective. Depending on how broad the\r\nSupreme Court\u0026#039;s decision ends up being, it could go a long way to\r\ndeciding the fate of other GM crops.A case on GM sugar beets is\r\ncurrently ongoing. The court has allowed plantings this year, but has\r\nreserved the right to prohibit them in the future. The USDA is in the\r\nmidst of preparing a draft impact statement for both these sugar beets\r\nand a GM creeping bentgrass.Gurian-Sherman has serious concerns\r\nabout the agency\u0026#039;s actions on GM crops generally. \u0026quot;There\u0026#039;s been several\r\nindications beside this case that USDA has not been really doing an\r\nadequate job regulating genetically-engineered seed\u0026amp;As a scientist,\r\nhaving reviewed a number of environmental assessments that the agency\r\nhas done, in my opinion they\u0026#039;ve often done a very lax, scientifically\r\noften unsupportable job in their analyses. It\u0026#039;s not like they\u0026#039;ve been\r\ncompletely negligent, but in my opinion they\u0026#039;ve made a number of errors\r\nin either scientific reasoning or in their data or data analysis.\u0026quot;Since\r\n1992, USDA\u0026#039;s APHIS division has granted non-regulated status to GM\r\nplants in response to 80 petitions, according to Bond, including\r\nmultiple varieties of corn, soybeans, cotton, rapeseed, potato, tomato,\r\nsquash, papaya, plum, rice, sugar beet, tobacco, alfalfa, flax, and\r\nchicory.Tuesday\u0026#039;s decision may have a significant influence on how that list changes in the future.