Supreme Court Reverses Ban on Biotech Alfalfa

Farmer Gene

The Supreme Court released its final ruling on Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farm, et al. on June 21, 2010, providing a victory for agricultural biotechnology.  While the case addresses the issue of genetically engineered Roundup Ready® alfalfa specifically and allows for its deregulated cultivation, it deals more broadly with issues of court injunctions, how bioengineered crops will be treated and viewed in the future, and further outlines a solution to violations of federal code.

When Monsanto Company first developed its Roundup Ready® alfalfa, it was classified as a regulated article by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and restrictions were placed on both its growth and use.  In 2004, Monsanto petitioned APHIS for Roundup Ready® alfalfa to be deregulated, which was granted in 2005.

The case was first brought to the Northern District of California court by Geertson Seed Farm, a conventional alfalfa grower, in 2006, claiming that APHIS had erred in the way it had made its decision by not preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) per requirements in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The courts found in favor of Geertson, saying that there had been a violation of NEPA, and ruled prohibiting planting of Roundup Ready® alfalfa after March 30, 2007.

APHIS made the suggestion that the court place limitations on further planting of the crop until an EIS could be prepared.  This proposal was rejected by the District Court and the Court banned all future planting of Roundup Ready® alfalfa until APHIS could finish the EIS.

Monsanto appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals to the Ninth Circuit, arguing that the District Court’s injunction was outside of judicial authority.  The ruling was upheld after the appeal, and the injunction remained in place.  The case was then granted certiorari by the Supreme Court, and oral arguments were heard on April 27, 2010.

In the decision released June 21, 2010, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling found by the District Court, citing a number of reasons.  First, the Supreme Court found that it is not necessary to complete an EIS if it has already done an environmental assessment (as APHIS had done in the case of Roundup Ready® alfalfa) on the product and found that there will not be a significant environmental impact.

The Supreme Court also decided that the District Court was not justified in making its injunction.  It also rules that the course of action suggested by APHIS involving partial deregulation would have been sufficient to protect the interests of the organic growers.  Finally, the Supreme Court ruled that the District Court erred in passing a nationwide injunction on planting Roundup Ready® alfalfa.

For more information:

NEPA requirements

Appeal brief

Supreme Court Opinion

Biofortified Opinion

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