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6/23/2010 U.S.

Supreme Court Overturns Ban on …

U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Ban on


Monsanto's Biotech Alfalfa

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WASHINGTON, DC, June 22, 2010 (ENS) - In the first


Supreme Court ruling on genetically engineered crops, the
high court Monday reversed a nationwide ban on the
planting of Monsanto Inc.'s genetically modified alfalfa. The
seeds are engineered to tolerate the company's Roundup
Ready herbicide.

In a 7-1 ruling, the justices overturned a lower court


injunction that has prohibited farmers from planting
Roundup Ready alfalfa for three years.

The opinion of the court, written by Justice Samuel Alito,


stated that the district court abused its discretion when it
prohibited the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2007.

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than a misunderstanding," Justice Stevens wrote in his
dissent. "It is also troubling that we may be making law
without adequate briefing on the critical questions we are

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6/23/2010 U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Ban on …
passing upon."

In its ruling, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit License ENS News
Court of Appeals decision upholding the California district for websites and newsletters
court injunction and removed a temporary ban on planting Send a news story to ENS editors
the pesticide-tolerant alfalfa. Upload environmental news videos

In his majority opinion, Justice Alito held that the USDA's Share ENS stories with the world

abbreviated environmental assessment had satisfied the


review requirements imposed by the National
Environmental Policy Act.

The original plaintiffs, who became the respondents in


Monsanto's appeal to the Supreme Court, had claimed in
their 2006 lawsuit that the USDA's approval of the
genetically modified alfalfa violated the National
Environmental Policy Act.

Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, is a flowering plant in the pea


family cultivated for cattle feed and hay. The engineered
alfalfa was approved for planting by the U.S. Department
of Agriculture after it determined that a formal
Environmental Impact Statement was not necessary.

The district court disagreed and ordered the USDA to


conduct a full EIS after finding sufficient evidence that the
genetically modified crop could contaminate alfalfa in
neighboring fields, creating a "significant possibility of
serious environmental harm" and harming farmers'
livelihoods and the American alfalfa market for years into
the future.

The district court imposed a temporary ban on the crop


until the EIS could be completed, and the Ninth Circuit
deferred to the district court's findings, which the Supreme
Court has now overturned.

"This Supreme Court ruling is important for every


American farmer, not just alfalfa growers," said David
Snively, Monsanto's senior vice president and general
counsel. "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."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant


Health Inspection Service, APHIS, which began
deregulating Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa seed in
2005, will now decide whether or not to allow regulated
planting to proceed while the agency completes an
Environmental Impact Statement.

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6/23/2010 U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Ban on …

Bales of alfalfa on a Minnesota farm (Photo by Dee Pix )

Steve Welker, Monsanto alfalfa business lead, said, "This


is exceptionally good news received in time for the next
planting season. Farmers have been waiting to hear this for
quite some time. We have Roundup Ready alfalfa seed
ready to deliver and await USDA guidance on its release.
Our goal is to have everything in place for growers to plant
in fall 2010."

But the Center for Food Safety, which represented the


farms and environmental groups, said that while the court
reversed the injunction, it did not address an order vacating
a decision to allow commercialization of the crop.

"The justices' decision today means that the selling and


planting of Roundup Ready Alfalfa is illegal," Andrew
Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety,
said Monday.

"The ban on the crop will remain in place until a full and
adequate EIS is prepared by USDA and they officially
deregulate the crop," Kimbrell said. "This is a year or more
away according to the agency, and even then, a
deregulation move may be subject to further litigation if the
agency's analysis is not adequate."

The Supreme Court ruling upheld the environmental


groups' standing to bring future challenges.

"In sum, it's a significant victory in our ongoing fight to


protect farmer and consumer choice, the environment and
the organic industry," said Kimbrell.

Phillip Geertson, who in 1968 founded the Greenleaf,


Idaho farm that was lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the
ruling was "a great victory for us."

But U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat


who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he is
"disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision."

"In holding that the USDA did not need to conduct a full
environmental impact study before authorizing the use of a
new genetically modified seed, the Court has undermined
congressional efforts to protect organic and conventional
farmers and the environment," said Leahy.

"I believe the decision erroneously approves Monsanto's

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6/23/2010 U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Ban on …
argument for a dangerous pollute-first, investigate-second
approach to enforcing federal environmental laws," he said.

Alfalfa growing wild along a Colorado roadside (Photo by


Narrisch)

Senator Leahy and Representative Peter DeFazio, an


Oregon Democrat, are circulating a Congressional sign-on
letter in the House and Senate asking the USDA to
maintain the ban on genetically engineered alfalfa to protect
the $1.4 billion organic dairy industry and other organic
and conventional farmers.

The sign-on letter states, "...consumers, farmers, dairies,


and food companies don't want GE alfalfa plants and seeds
released into the environment.

The letter points out that the USDA's Draft Environmental


Impact Statement admits that if genetically engineered, GE,
alfalfa is approved:

GE contamination of non-GE and organic alfalfa


crops will occur
GE contamination will economically impact small
and family farmers
Foreign export markets will be at risk due to
rejection of GE contaminated products
Farmers will be forced to use more toxic herbicides
to remove old stands of alfalfa

Geertson, whose farm has been producing alfalfa seed


since 1942, says he is opposed to Monsanto's GE alfalfa
seed because, "Alfalfa is not just a prolific field crop, but
feral alfalfa and weedy alfalfa is commonly found beyond
the fields by roadways, irrigation canals, backyards and
beyond."

"While proponents of Roundup Ready alfalfa downplay the


problems associated with contamination from GE alfalfa,"
he says, "once Roundup Ready alfalfa is grown
commercially throughout the country, the GE genes will be
virtually impossible to contain and will spread through the
environment threatening all conventional and organic
alfalfa."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights


reserved.

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