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

Soil Young Corn
Crop InputsSmithsonian: 5 Things to Know About New GMO Labeling Bill
July 27, 2016
On July 14, the House of Representatives passed a bill requiring large food companies to label products containing genetically modified Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsBloomberg: Syngenta-Chem China Deal on Track for Regulatory Approval
July 25, 2016
Syngenta AG, which has agreed to be taken over by China National Chemical Corp. for $43 billion, said talks with Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto: EU Approves Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Imports
July 22, 2016
Monsanto Co. announced today that the European Commission has granted import approval for Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans. This milestone Read More
Syngenta headquarters in Basel, Switzerland
Crop InputsSyngenta Announces Alfalfa Seed Split Off
July 22, 2016
On September 1, 2016, Syngenta will transfer sales and distribution of alfalfa seed to the NEXGROW branded business that is Read More
Trending Articles
Heritage Cooperative
Retail FacilitiesKahler Automation Designs State-Of-The-Art Facility For Heritage Cooperative
July 4, 2016
Heritage Cooperative in Marysville, OH, needed an efficient liquid, dry and grain facility to serve the many needs of their Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Latest News
Soil Young Corn
Crop InputsSmithsonian: 5 Things to Know About New GMO Labeling Bi…
July 27, 2016
On July 14, the House of Representatives passed a bill requiring large food companies to label products containing genetically modified Read More
Palmer pigweed in soybean stubble
HerbicidesSpecial Issue Of Weed Science Explores Human Aspects Of…
July 27, 2016
Weeds that evolve resistance to herbicides are a serious threat to global agricultural production. In this Special Issue of Weed Science, Read More
CHS Primeland
CropLife 100CHS Businesses In Washington, Idaho Combining For Great…
July 27, 2016
As full-service ag retailers, CHS Primeland and CHS Farmers Co-op collectively serve farmers and other customers in 15 counties in Read More
Storage Tanks at Nachurs
Crop InputsNACHURS Joins Field to Market
July 27, 2016
NACHURS announced today that it has joined Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, a leading multi-stakeholder initiative working Read More
Illinois Researchers
FertilizerMeasure Of Age In Soil Nitrogen Could Help Precision Ag…
July 26, 2016
What’s good for crops is not always good for the environment. Nitrogen, a key nutrient for plants, can cause problems Read More
Kochia
Crop InputsNufarm Launches New Herbicide for Resistant Kochia
July 25, 2016
Nufarm introduces Scorch herbicide for U.S. farmers and ranchers combating a broad range of troublesome broadleaf weeds. A unique premix Read More
ManagementNew Rabobank Report Calls for Farmer ROI Focus
July 25, 2016
As U.S. row crop farmers brace themselves for a third year of negative margins, Rabobank believes farmers must lower the Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsBloomberg: Syngenta-Chem China Deal on Track for Regula…
July 25, 2016
Syngenta AG, which has agreed to be taken over by China National Chemical Corp. for $43 billion, said talks with Read More
ManagementGROWMARK Meeting Visit, Company Takeover Updates, and R…
July 22, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent speaking engagement at GROWMARK’s eastern event, crop protection company merger rumors, Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto: EU Approves Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Imports
July 22, 2016
Monsanto Co. announced today that the European Commission has granted import approval for Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans. This milestone Read More
Syngenta headquarters in Basel, Switzerland
Crop InputsSyngenta Announces Alfalfa Seed Split Off
July 22, 2016
On September 1, 2016, Syngenta will transfer sales and distribution of alfalfa seed to the NEXGROW branded business that is Read More
Dow DuPont
Crop InputsDuPont, Dow Shareholders Approve Merger
July 21, 2016
DuPont and The Dow Chemical Company announced that, at their respective special meetings of stockholders held today, stockholders of both Read More
ManagementLand O’Lakes Announces SUSTAIN Business Unit, Oth…
July 20, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced the formal organization of a new business unit, SUSTAIN, and its leadership. SUSTAIN will focus Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Shareholder Proposes Monsanto ‘Host…
July 20, 2016
One of Bayer AG’s top 20 shareholders said Wednesday it may make sense for the life-science company to launch an Read More
Young Corn Closeup
Industry NewsNew Leaf Symbiotics Snags Former Monsanto Microbials Le…
July 20, 2016
NewLeaf Symbiotics, announced today the appointment of Dr. Janne Kerovuo as Vice President for Research and Discovery.  Dr. Kerovuo comes Read More
Corn and ditch
ManagementStudy: Saturated Buffers Reduce Nitrates From Subsurfac…
July 19, 2016
The Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC), Agricultural Drainage Management Systems Task Force and Dr. Dan Jaynes with the National Laboratory Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
EquipmentAgronomists, CCAs, Custom Applicators Invited To FSR Ag…
July 19, 2016
Agronomists, Certified Crop Advisers (CCA) and custom applicators can stay current on agronomy issues on the grounds of the Farm Read More
Soybean Field
LegislationOhio Soybean Association Names Brian Hill Legislator Of…
July 19, 2016
The Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) has announced that State Representative Brian Hill (R-Zanesville) has been named one of two Legislators of Read More