High Court Hears Biotech Alfalfa Case

by Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Attorneys arguing before the Supreme Court to overturn a judge’s injunction banning the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa told the high court that it will likely be at least a year before USDA completes an environmental impact study that could allow farmers to plant the crop.

In the first biotech-crop case to arrive at the Supreme Court, Monsanto Co. and the Obama administration challenged a district court injunction issued three years ago that created a nationwide ban on planting Roundup Ready alfalfa. USDA had moved to deregulate the crop, but environmental groups and some farmers sued, claiming deregulating Roundup alfalfa would contaminate farms and hurt the ability to export.

Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart told justices the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has received more than 145,000 public comments on the draft environmental impact statement being created to potentially deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa. USDA has been working on that impact statement since 2007. "So this process is going to take longer than APHIS anticipated in the outset," Stewart said.

Justice Samuel Alito said earlier in the arguments he didn’t understand the need to overturn the injunction because the environmental impact statement was supposed to be issued soon. "This case may be moot by the time they do that," Alito said.

Stewart later responded to Alito, saying, "There is no prospect the case will become moot before a judgment is rendered."

A ruling on the case by the Supreme Court likely will be issued in early summer.

Eight justices heard the case after Justice Stephen Breyer recused himself because his brother was the district judge who issued the original ban and vacated the APHIS decision to deregulate the crop.

Justices were skeptical about the idea of overturning the injunction. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the justices questioning why the high court should overturn the injunction given that Judge Charles Breyer’s order had essentially vacated APHIS’ original deregulation of the crop.

"As long as you didn’t appeal the vacation of the order, I don’t see how there is anything for us to deal with," Ginsburg told Gregory Garre, the lawyer representing Monsanto.

Chief Justice John Roberts further added that given the district court decision, APHIS could have issued another rule partially deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa. USDA and Monsanto argued that they had proposed allowing Roundup alfalfa planting to continue under more stringent planting conditions, but the district judge rejected that proposal in issuing his ban.

"You have the burden to establish entitlement to these conditions, is that correct?" Roberts said.

Stewart said the costs to Monsanto and farmers wanting to plant Roundup alfalfa outweighed the demands being required by banning all planting of the crop. "The issue is whether those protective measures would have protected irreparable harm to the plaintiffs," Stewart said.

Justice Antonin Scalia questioned the environmental attorneys and farmers who filed the suit about the threat of "irreparable harm" that would come from planting Roundup Ready alfalfa.

"There isn’t a single plaintiff that has a claim on the utmost limits of risk," Scalia said.

Attorney Lawrence Robbins, arguing for the Center for Food Safety and the farmers who oppose Roundup Ready alfalfa, argued that there are a wide range of risks the farmers face from contamination, and that crop contamination could happen in several different ways, such as a custom harvester cutting a Roundup Ready crop one day and an organic crop the next. Scalia questioned whether the market would take care of it.

"You don’t think the free market would produce companies that advertise that they only cut natural seed fields?" Scalia said.

Later, noting that even though the environmental impact statement may take a year, Scalia said deregulation isn’t going to cause irreparable harm. "The most it does is make it more difficult for farmers who want to cater to the European market … this is not the end of the world," Scalia said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wanted attorneys to explain where the court erred, given that USDA’s APHIS was the agency that failed to obey the law by doing an environmental impact statement as demanded under the National Environmental Policy Act. Sotomayor said the attempt to allow planting under tighter conditions without a completed environmental impact statement was "short-circuiting" the NEPA process. Stewart disagreed.

"From our perspective, rather than short-circuit the process, we were trying to streamline it," Stewart said.

Sotomayor inquired where seed alfalfa is grown, and upon being told by the environmental attorneys that it was mainly in the Pacific Northwest, she questioned the breadth of the lower court’s "one size fits all" nationwide injunction. "How is that reasonable when the risk is different in different places?" she demanded.

(Source: DTN/The Progressive Farmer)

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Seed/Biotech Stories

Seed/BiotechSyngenta Delivers Two New Winter Wheat Varieties To Eastern Corn Belt
August 6, 2014
Adding to its portfolio of AgriPro brand wheat varieties, Syngenta introduces SY 007 and SY 474 soft red winter wheat varieties. Read More
Seed/BiotechWater Optimized Seed Flowing Freely
April 1, 2014
As the demand for ag to diminish its water use while maintaining high yields and crop quality increases, three companies are leading the movement to grow more with less water. Read More
Seed/BiotechBayer Applies For Seed Treatment That Protects Against Sudden Death Syndrome
February 26, 2014
If approved, ILeVO seed treatment would be the first product to provide breakthrough protection for soybean seedlings from the soil borne pathogen Fusarium virguliforme, the fungus that causes SDS. Read More
Seed/BiotechSeed Still Central
November 1, 2013
Advancing genetics continue to make seed the crop variable that calls the shots for the season. Read More

Trending Articles

Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScience
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Offers New Support For Ferguson, Area Communities
October 8, 2014
Monsanto Co. has committed $1 million in new support for several collaborative efforts in Ferguson, MO, and surrounding communities in North St. Louis County. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnapproved Genetically Modified Wheat Found In Montana
October 3, 2014
USDA reports that one year after discovery of Monsanto's unapproved wheat in a single Oregon field disrupted U.S. wheat export sales, the GMO wheat has again been found in Montana. Read More
Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
The deadline to vote for the 2014 CropLife IRON Product of the Year is October 31. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More

Latest News

EquipmentAgraScout App Available At No Cost To Universities
October 21, 2014
AgraScout, a fast and easy to use mobile crop scouting app, is now available at no cost to University students, Read More
LegislationNew Farm Bill Program To Provide Relief To Farmers Affe…
October 21, 2014
The USDA has implemented a new Farm Bill initiative that will provide relief to farmers affected by severe weather, including drought. Read More
ManagementGreenfield Scholars Program Aims To Sustain Agronomy Wo…
October 21, 2014
The program encourages talented students to study agronomy, crop and soil sciences while cultivating networks to develop the necessary workforce to sustain the profession. Read More
Paul SchrimpfPrecision Ag: Taking It To The Hill
October 21, 2014
A new coalition took the good news message of precision agriculture to Washington, DC, last month. Read More
ManagementUSDA Awards $18 Million In Small Business Research Gran…
October 21, 2014
The grants will provide high quality, advanced research and development that will lead to technological innovations and solutions for American agriculture. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Terminates Merger Discussions With Yara I…
October 21, 2014
CF Industries Holdings and Yara International have terminated their discussions regarding a potential merger of equals transaction. Read More
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Ranked A Top 10 Biotech Employer For Third tim…
October 20, 2014
Syngenta ranked in the top 10 among the world’s top biotech employers, according to an annual survey conducted by Science magazine. Read More
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Break Ground For New Facility At Kennebec
October 20, 2014
Wheat Growers has broke ground for a state-of-the-art shuttle loader grain handling, fertilizer and agronomy facility in Kennebec, SD. Read More
FertilizerVerdesian Life Sciences Signs Agreement With Los Alamos…
October 20, 2014
Verdesian Life Sciences has signed a licensing agreement with Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop and market LANL’s latest nitrogen enhancement technology for plants. Read More
MicronutrientsStoller Group Announces Groundbreaking At New Office Bu…
October 20, 2014
Jerry Stoller, founder and president of Stoller Group, announced the groundbreaking at the site of the company’s future headquarters in Read More
Crop InputsBioSafe Systems Opens New Production Facility In Nevada
October 20, 2014
BioSafe Systems has completed construction of a state-of-art production facility in Sparks, NV, for its line of activated peroxygen products. Read More
Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScien…
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More
Seed/BiotechEPA Approves Dow’s Enlist Duo Herbicide
October 15, 2014
The Enlist Weed Control System, breakthrough technology to fight resistant and tough weeds, has received the long-awaited green light from federal regulatory authorities. Read More
MicronutrientsGypsum On Farms Could Help Keep Water Clean, Not Green
October 14, 2014
Gypsum, which has roots in the past as a farm soil treatment, also may have a bright future, and not just as a booster of crops but also as a protector of water. Read More
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Crop InputsVerdesian Grows Sales Staff
October 14, 2014
The new account managers will drive sales growth and support relationships with key customers in the plant nutrition and seed treatment and inoculants product categories. Read More
WebinarsUpcoming Webinars
October 14, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
CropLife 100The Andersons Purchases Six Grain Elevators, Four Agron…
October 14, 2014
The Andersons has acquired Auburn Bean and Grain of Auburn, MI, which will increase the storage capacity of its Grain Group by about 13%. Read More
StewardshipThree Ohio Ag Retailers Honored With 4R Certification
October 13, 2014
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced its first three agriculture nutrient service providers to achieve certified status. Read More