Today, Roundup Ready Alfalfa gets its day before the U.S. Supreme Court. And thousands of farmers will be watching and waiting—including the 5,500 farmers who planted approximately 260,000 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa prior to the injunction.
This is significant because it’s the first time a biotech or genetically modified crop has gone before the high court. However, this case isn’t about the safety or the benefits of Roundup Ready alfalfa. It’s about whether the ban, or injunction, that’s currently in place is appropriate.
Roundup Ready alfalfa has been tied up in the court system. The product was commercialized in 2005, and farmers began planting it. The next year (2006), a federal lawsuit was filed by several farm, environmental and organic consumer groups. The plaintiffs’ lawsuit said the USDA failed to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). In 2007, a federal district court stopped the sale and planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa via an injunction.
That injunction or ban on the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa is what today’s arguments are about—not about the original ruling on the EIS or on the safety of the product. Monsanto and our partner, Forage Genetics International (FGI), believe that the ban was inappropriate for several reasons, including:
- The plaintiffs could not demonstrate that continued planting of RR alfalfa was likely to cause irreparable harm to other alfalfa growers.
- The Court declined to meaningfully consider USDA’s proposed interim solution. The solution would have allowed farmers to continue planting Roundup Ready alfalfa under specific mandatory stewardship measures.
The biggest concern from Roundup Ready alfalfa opponents is that Roundup Ready alfalfa will allegedly “contaminate” organic alfalfa, hence their reason for requesting the injunction. But this is highly unlikely based on the way alfalfa is grown and the measures that farmers put in place to prevent cross-pollination. (See Can Roundup Ready Alfalfa Coexist with Organic and Conventional Alfalfa?) In fact, the chance for cross pollination for Roundup Ready alfalfa grown for hay–which accounts for 99% of alfalfa acreage—is extremely remote with no evidence whatsoever of any organic or conventional alfalfa farmer having lost any sales resulting from alleged “contamination.”
So whose rights are at risk here? Farmers who perceive some remote risk, or farmers who are waiting to plant a product that has full approval from the USDA? A product that farmers themselves say allows for less herbicide use, higher test hay, yield increases, higher prices for cleaner hay and improved water efficiency. (“RR alfalfa growers have only high praise for biotech forage crop,” Western Farm Press)
We’ll have to wait and see.
Without RR Alfalfa, Growers Face Challenges, Hay and Forage Grower
Biotechnology and the Farmers Right to Choose, Monsanto Today