The U.S. Supreme Court this week reversed a lower court’s nationwide ban on the cultivation of biotech alfalfa, considered a victory in the Court’s first case examining the technology.
In the case, Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, 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 (NEPA).
The courts in the Ninth Circuit determined that USDA should have conducted an environmental impact statement (EIS) before it decided to deregulate and ultimately enjoined almost all planting and sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa pending the issuance of the EIS. The Supreme Court’s decision this week reversed the injunction, finding that the lower court went too far in presuming that the only remedy available for a NEPA violation is a nationwide injunction rather than the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) proposed partial deregulation.
Still, it is unclear if the decision will ultimately lead to Roundup Ready alfalfa being planted this season. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower court and USDA to determine what interim measures can be implemented while the agency completes an EIS, which isn’t expected to be done until next spring.
Fifty-one Members of the House of Representatives and five Senators wrote Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack this week saying the Department’s initial finding that Roundup Ready alfalfa has no significant impact on the environment or other crops “cannot be justified” and asking him to deny a request for even partial deregulation.
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.
In March, NAWG joined a coalition of agricultural organizations in filing a joint friend-of-the-court brief urging the injunction be reversed, and NAWG leaders continue working with coalition partners to demonstrate the importance of biotechnology for producers.
The Supreme Court’s full opinion is online at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/09-475.pdf.