Judging the Facts About Biotechnology
Jun 25, 2010
By Reg Clause – Jefferson, IA - Board member, Truth About Trade & Technology
In the Supreme Court’s first-ever ruling on genetically modified crops, the justices issued a resounding decision in favor of biotechnology. The Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision to impose a nationwide ban on GM alfalfa.
The Supreme Court is famous for its 5-4 split decisions, especially in cases that generate political controversy. The alfalfa ruling, however, was no nail-biter. The justices ruled 7-1 in favor of biotechnology.
The case marks a clear victory for American farmer choice in the matter of biotech seed. It affirms the idea that relevant government agencies and regulators set the rules that govern agriculture – and those rules must be science-based. The United States has benefited since its founding from a process of lawmaking and regulatory rules making. When this is subverted by finding friendly courts or endlessly clogging our processes with frivolous suits, nobody benefits except the very narrow interest groups who happen to oppose progress.
Technically, the ruling in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms was procedural. Important legal and regulatory decisions lie ahead as the Department of Agriculture finishes an environmental assessment of GM alfalfa. Farmers like myself agree with a robust and continuous process that assures me and all Americans that our food is safe and always available.
Yet the case also sets farmers on a course that may allow them to take full advantage of what GM alfalfa has to offer and opens up the possibility for plantings to begin within a few months.
Those opposing biotechnology obviously were hoping for a different result. For them, resorting to litigation was a desperate maneuver. They’ve lost significant battles over GM crops in just about every other arena.
Farmers across the country are adopting and planting GM crops as soon as they become available because the value is there in improved productivity and quality. This spring marks the 15th year that biotech crops are being planted in the U.S. Today, the vast majority of corn, soybeans, and cotton are genetically enhanced to fight weeds and bugs. The broader public has responded favorably as well, especially when there is objective information provided. Of course the public might be against GM seed if they are told there might be a problem. That’s why I’m writing this article. I haven’t seen these problems, research scientist inside and outside the industry haven’t been able to show these problems and our regulators didn’t find these supposed problems. The American people need to know that. Let’s put some trust but verify into action on this important subject and question those who oppose important new things, “just because.”
As a farmer I do not take more risk than I can justify. My legacy is my farm and the young people I leave to farm it. When I see the decades of regulatory research into biotech seeds and the billions of acres planted over the years, I simply ask a question. When there are no negative outcomes in the environment or human health discovered after so many years, is there not a point when those fearful of biotechnology can admit there is no longer need to just fear? I want the regulatory functions to go on and get better if anything, but simply stopping progress with the courts is not a way to facilitate proper research and rules development.
Science also has come down solidly on the side of biotechnology. Research has shown that these plants pose no threat to anybody and may even enhance human health as new traits that improve nutrition become available. On the environmental front, GM crops have let farmers adopt no-till methods that fight soil erosion. Gains in yield allow farmers to produce more food on each acre of land, thereby reducing the pressure on wilderness areas.
The anti-biotech activists are applying a cynical approach to science, technology, and food production by hiring lawyers and seeking out friendly court venues. Yet these professional rabble-rousers have a lot invested in their litigious scheme. The Supreme Court’s decision probably isn’t enough to make them abandon it completely. Even if they don’t win on alfalfa, they’ll try to win on sugar beets--another important crop that they are attempting to thwart.
The good news is that the Supreme Court’s ruling will make it harder for them to succeed. My goal in farming is to improve the environment in my care and provide ever safer food for Americans and the world.
All across our land I hope for us to all come together around achievable goals like mine. If there are legitimate objections to the adoption of new farming tools such as biotech seeds, I’m waiting to hear them and would want to see such objections thoroughly handled. Right now the objections appear to come without merit attached. So sayeth our Supreme Court.
Reg Clause raises cattle, corn and soybeans on a fourth generation family farm in central Iowa. He is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member (www.truthabouttrrade.org)