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

dicamba, Roundup Ready 2 Xtend
Crop InputsASA: No Dicamba On Roundup Ready 2 Xtend In 2016
May 16, 2016
While Roundup Ready 2 Xtend (RR2X) are tolerant to dicamba and glyphosate herbicides, no dicamba herbicides will be approved for Read More
Crop InputsGMO Pipeline Features Consumer Targeted Modifications
April 15, 2016
The newly approved GMO Simplot Innate potato, developed to produce lower amounts of the harmful-yet-natural chemical acrylamide, resist bruising, and Read More
Crop InputsReuters: Chinese GMO Seed Espionage Making Iowa Farmers Uneasy
April 12, 2016
Tim Burrack, a northern Iowa farmer in his 44th growing season, has taken to keeping a wary eye out for Read More
Peanut field
FungicidesArysta LifeScience Receives EPA Approval Of Fungicide Seed Treatment
April 5, 2016
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced it received approval from the EPA of RANCONA V PD, a broad-spectrum fungicide dust Read More
Trending Articles
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
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Eyeing Monsanto For Possible Mega-Merger
May 16, 2016
Bayer AG is exploring a potential bid for U.S. competitor Monsanto Co. in a deal that would create the world’s Read More
Latest News
ManagementUpdates on Glyphosate Use in the EU and Bayer/Monsanto
June 29, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the latest important developments on these crop protection fronts. Read More
Industry NewsCompass Minerals Names Protassium+ Sales Director
June 28, 2016
Compass Minerals, the producer of Protassium+ sulfate of potash, has named Scott Johnson director of sales for Protassium+ North America. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe British Leave Vote Impact On EU Agriculture
June 27, 2016
Like virtually everyone else in the world this past week, I’ve watched the global reaction to Britain’s vote to exit Read More
Valent David Nothmann
Crop InputsValent Names David Nothmann Vice President Of Marketing
June 27, 2016
Valent U.S.A. Corp. has announced the appointment of David Nothmann as vice president of marketing. Nothmann will be responsible for Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stew…
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
CropLife 100BRANDT Contributes To Mayo Clinic
June 27, 2016
BRANDT, a leading agriculture retailer and manufacturer of specialty agriculture products, has pledged a sizable donation to the Mayo Clinic Read More
ManagementReport: U.S. Farmland Values On Average Continue Gradua…
June 27, 2016
Land price movement has been in the forefront for farmers, landowners, lenders and land brokers for a decade now during Read More
AdjuvantsPrecision Laboratories Introduces Intact Xtra For Use W…
June 27, 2016
Precision Laboratories announces the launch of Intact Xtra, an adjuvant designed for applicators who want to maximize spray applications and Read More
Key Cooperative’s new liquid fertilizer, crop chemical, and seed facility in Grinnell, IA stores 1.5 million gallons of liquid fertilizer and 120,000 gallons of crop chemicals.
Retail FacilitiesKey Cooperative Facility Features The Latest In Murray …
June 27, 2016
When Key Cooperative wanted to improve the overall efficiency at its new state-of-the-art facility in Grinnell, IA, it turned to Read More
Allen Summers Asmark Institute PSM Training
EmployeesAsmark Institute Sponsors 25 ResponsibleAg Auditor Trai…
June 21, 2016
The Asmark Institute has announced plans to provide 25 scholarships through their affiliated State fertilizer and agrichemical associations to help encourage Read More
Kennebec Elevator
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Celebrates Kennebec Elevator Grand Openin…
June 21, 2016
Over 250 patrons and guests were on hand to celebrate Wheat Growers’ Kennebec Elevator grand opening. South Dakota Secretary of Read More
Land O Lakes
Industry NewsLand O’Lakes To Acquire Ceres
June 20, 2016
Land O’ Lakes, Inc. and Ceres, Inc. have announced that they have signed a definitive merger agreement under which Land O’Lakes Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To …
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
LegislationVilsack Christens WinField Crop Adventure, Talks Monsan…
June 17, 2016
The WinField Crop Adventure grand opening ceremonies at Fair Oaks Farms (near Winemac, IN) welcomed USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Read More
Crop InputsFields of the Future: WinField Doubles Down with Agri-E…
June 16, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc., joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, today will host Fields of the Future, a live broadcast about Read More
Bayer sign
Crop InputsMonsanto Turns Back Bayer Again
June 14, 2016
Bayer AG’s bid to buy Monsanto Co. for more than $60 billion has hit an impasse that could pose a Read More
Young Corn Field
Crop NutritionNext Generation Of Nitrogen Efficiency Technology Conve…
June 13, 2016
Commodity price projections indicate farmers will continue to face tight margins again this year. Delivering higher yields and more bushels Read More