The Supreme Court began hearing arguments yesterday appealing a 2006 ruling in favor of Northern California organic alfalfa growers. In Monsanto Co vs Geertson Seed Farms, Phillip Geertson and other producers of organic alfalfa argued that nearby production of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa threatened to cross-contaminate their crops. This will be the first case involving GMO crops accepted by the Supreme Court.

In making their case against Monsanto, Geertson cited statutes from the National Environmental Policy Act that was adopted by Congress to “attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation, risk to health and safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences.” Unfortunately, since it’s passage in 1969, the Supreme Court has defeated all thirteen challenges brought against corporations that relied on NEPA.

Part of Monsanto’s case relies on the argument that the “irreparable harm” allegedly caused by its Roundup Ready crops is solely economic and not environmental, thus it is not covered by NEPA.

Their argument struck me as fundamentally unsound, based in the false distinction between environmental and ecological harm. While Monsanto sees the world as a collection of exploitable resources, organic farmers understand that a healthy economy relies on a healthy environment.

“Sustainability” is not just a hippy buzzword, or passing fad. It is, by definition, a necessity for the continuation of life on earth. This common sense reality is cleverly illustrated in a two-minute video, produced by the Natural Step:

Industry advocates, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, Croplife America and the National Association of Home Builders, filed a brief requesting that “the Court should make clear once and for all that a court must find likely irreparable harm before issuing an injunction."

Congress clearly stated that activities that presented a “risk to health and safety” could be challenged. GMO technology is largely untested, and where it has been tested the results are not encouraging. In 1969, Congress could not have predicted the technologies we would be evaluating forty years later. But in their wisdom, they left the wording broad and sympathetic to the well being of the general population. GM technology clearly presents a risk to the health and safety, not only of those who knowingly consume GM foods, but even those who consume produce grown in the vicinity of GM foods. While industry advocates are hoping the Supreme Court will find genetically modified organisms “innocent until proven guilty,” I believe the intention of Congress was to consider untested technology of this magnitude “dangerous until proven safe.”