The Agriculture Department estimates as much as one-third of this year's corn harvest will be used to produce ethanol. And hoping to increase their yields, U.S growers continue to embrace genetically modified seeds in a big way.
According to USDA, biotech seeds accounted for 86 percent of U.S. corn planted in 2009; 91 percent of the soybeans and 88 percent of the cotton.
Genetically modified alfalfa seeds also were on their way to U.S. hayfields -- that is -- until a federal judge in San Francisco banned them on concerns over their impact on the environment.
This week, in a case with widespread implications for agriculture, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ban on GMO alfalfa.
In a 7-1 ruling, the High Court reversed a federal appellate court ruling that prohibited Monsanto from selling alfalfa seeds which had been genetically modified to tolerate the popular herbicide, Roundup.
The Agriculture Department must now decide whether to allow the biotech seeds to be planted. USDA had already approved the, so-called, "Roundup Ready" alfalfa in 2005, but courts in California and Oregon found that USDA did NOT adequately address the potential for cross-pollination with other non-GMO crops.
Monsanto officials quickly praised this week's decision in a statement saying:
Monsanto Statement: "This Supreme Court ruling is important for every American farmer, not just alfalfa growers. All growers can rely on the expertise of USDA, and trust that future challenges to biotech approvals must now be based on scientific facts, not speculation." -David F. Snively, Monsanto Senior Vice President and General Counsel.
Nevertheless, the Center for Food Safety ALSO applauded the ruling. Noting in its statement that without USDA approval it is still illegal to plant or sell genetically modified alfalfa, the advocacy group said:
Center for Food Safety Safety Statement: "It's a significant victory in our ongoing fight to protect farmer and consumer choice, the environment and the organic industry." -Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety.
USDA testing of the GMO seeds could be complete by 2011. But biotech giant Monsanto is seeking a ruling temporarily lifting the ban, which would allow genetically modified alfalfa to be planted as early as this fall.