Awaiting RR alfalfa’s fate

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this spring whether a lower court acted hastily and incorrectly by banning the growing of biotech alfalfa despite extensive scientific evidence documenting the safety of the crop.

On March 8 a coalition of farm organizations filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Roundup Ready alfalfa in the Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms case. A favorable ruling could lead to Roundup Ready alfalfa again becoming available for growers to plant.

The brief was submitted by the American Farm Bureau, Biotechnology Industry Organization, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean Association, National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cotton Council and National Potato Council. The groups are urging that the lower court’s decision to approve an injunction without adequately hearing the key evidence must be reversed. They want the decision reversed “to protect the farmers who choose to grow genetically engineered crops, as well as the public benefits biotechnology brings to producers and consumers around the world.”

Key Points

• Supreme Court to decide future of biotech alfalfa; decision expected by June.

• A lower court has blocked the planting and sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed.

• This is an important case regarding the ruling on genetically engineered crops.

How did this get started?

Roundup Ready alfalfa, which is tolerant to applications of glyphosate herbicide, came on the market in 2005 following its original USDA approval. But a federal lawsuit was filed by the Center for Food Safety, a special-interest group, claiming USDA failed to issue a proper environmental impact statement, or EIS.

The environmental groups and individual organic alfalfa farmers involved in this lawsuit claimed USDA’s decision to grant deregulated status to glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa violated the federal Environmental Policy Act. As a result, a federal district judge in California in 2007 ordered the environmental impact study be reviewed and the EIS reissued by USDA. The judge also banned the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed until the review was completed.

The lower court’s injunction against biotech alfalfa, however, was made without the court conducting a thorough review of evidence that precluded a finding of irreparable harm. Also, the lower court failed to consider the public benefits of biotechnology, which already is adopted widely in the U.S. for a number of key crops such as corn, soybeans, cotton, sugarbeets and papaya.

Decision expected by June

In 2005, USDA’S Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, concluded there is no significant impact on the human environment due to granting non-regulated status to Roundup Ready alfalfa. In accordance with the lower court’s ruling, APHIS recently completed a 1,400-page document as its draft EIS, and again has recommended that Roundup Ready alfalfa be deregulated and farmers be allowed to grow it.

This is an important case because it will be the first time the high court has weighed in on the risks of genetically engineered crops. Of the more than 10,000 cases appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court each year, only about 1% of them are accepted for review on their merits and oral arguments. This matter is scheduled for oral argument on April 27. A decision is expected from the Supreme Court by June.

Source: American Farm Bureau, and National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance

This article published in the April, 2010 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.