Ag Groups File Amicus Brief on High Court’s First Biotech Case

March 12, 2010 Bookmark and Share

NAWG joined a coalition of agricultural organizations Monday in filing a joint friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court in support of the petitioners in Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms.

The case will be the first on genetically modified crops that the Court has heard and will examine if a lower court acted hastily and incorrectly by banning the cultivation of biotech alfalfa despite extensive scientific evidence documenting the safety of the crop.

In their brief, the groups urge that the lower courts’ decision to approve an injunction without adequately hearing the key evidence must be reversed “to protect the farmers who choose to grow genetically-engineered crops, as well as the public benefits that agricultural biotechnology brings to producers and consumers around the world.”

In the lower court case, environmental groups and individual organic alfalfa farmers sued USDA, claiming the Department’s decision to grant deregulated status to glyphosate-tolerant, or Roundup Ready, alfalfa violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

The courts in the Ninth Circuit determined that USDA should have conducted an environmental impact statement (EIS) before it decided to deregulate, and the court ultimately enjoined almost all planting and sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa pending the issuance of the EIS.

According to the ag groups’ brief, the lower court’s injunction against biotech alfalfa, was made without the court conducting a thorough review of evidence that precluded a finding of irreparable harm. In 2005, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) concluded that there is no significant impact on the human environment due to granting non-regulated status to Roundup Ready alfalfa. Following the lower court’s ruling, APHIS completed a 1,400-page document as its draft EIS, and again has recommended that Roundup Ready alfalfa be deregulated and that farmers be allowed to grow it.

The brief also explains that the lower courts failed to consider the public benefits of agricultural biotechnology, which is widely used in the U.S. in crops including corn, soybeans, cotton and sugar beets. There is no commercialized biotech wheat anywhere in the world, but NAWG believes biotechnology’s introduction into the wheat crop is necessary for the wheat industry to increase productivity, attract acres back to the crop and feed a growing global population in a sustainable way.

Of the more than 10,000 cases appealed to the Supreme Court each year, only about 1 percent is accepted for review, and the agricultural community is closely watching to see which what the Court’s action on this one. The case is scheduled for oral argument on April 27 with a decision expected by June.

The brief was submitted by NAWG, American Farm Bureau Federation, Biotechnology Industry Organization, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean Association, National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance, National Cotton Council and National Potato Council.