Supreme Court Asked To Review GM Alfalfa Ban

Round bales of alfalfa.  Image taken by צ'כלברה.

Round bales of alfalfa. Photo taken by צ'כלברה.

According to a storypublished in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Monsanto Co. asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision to ban the planting of genetically modified alfalfa until an environmental review is complete.”  Monsanto is less than happy with the victory recently won by a coalition of environmental groups against the company and USDA.  The victory will remain as such only if the Supreme Court does not grant certiorari (there are more than 10,000 cases that get submitted for consideration to the Court every year of which the Court hears only about 100).

This past June, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision, which issued a permanent injunction in May 2007, and also denied Monsanto’s request for a rehearing.  The lower court issued an injunction against the planting or the sale of GM alfalfa pending a completion of an Environmental Impact Study (“EIS”) by USDA, without, however, setting a deadline for completion of the study.  USDA’s web site still indicates that a draft of the EIS will be issued for public review this year. While the injunction stopped all new planting of GM alfalfa, it did not impact the nearly 5,500 growers, which represent less than 1% of the total alfalfa acreage in the United States, that have already planted Roundup Ready alfalfa seeds prior to the ban.

Still, the stakes in this case are high. At issue is one the most successful challenges mounted by environmental groups to unrelenting planting of GM crop.  The decision reveals that the USDA rushed approval of GM alfalfa, which raises doubts about USDA’s approval for other GM crops. If the alfalfa case reaches the Supreme Court and a decision is rendered, it will set a precedent for the companion case involving GM sugar beets (also a Monsanto product) that is now being hotly contested.  In that case the environmental and economic impact is far larger as GM sugar beets constitute 95% of all sugar beets planted.  Sugar beets account for nearly half of the U.S. sugar supply and represent a $3 billion a year industry.

GMO Journal will continue following the story as it develops.