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Beyond the Rows is a Monsanto Company blog focused on one of the world’s most important industries, agriculture. Monsanto employees write about Monsanto’s business, the agriculture industry, and the farmer.
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Supreme Court Decision on Biotech Alfalfa – Who Wins?

The big news kicking off the week is the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-1 ruling to reverse a lower court’s ban on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa product. Media reports trumpeted Monsanto’s win:

Then, surprisingly, the Center for Food Safety issued a statement mid-day claiming victory. According to CFS, they are “celebrating” today the victory of a 7-1 ruling against them. I guess maybe CFS runs with a glass half-full mentality.

We had a reporter call and ask if CFS mistakenly issued the wrong statement. Go figure.

What happens now?

The court’s ruling is clear, and it unequivocally overturns the ban on Roundup Ready alfalfa. That does not mean that alfalfa seed can be planted today, but the Supreme Court decision does clear the way. Now, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) can determine what interim measures need to be established for farmers to plant Roundup Ready alfalfa while the agency completes the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). That framework could include processes such as minimum distance requirements for planting.

No date has been set by USDA/APHIS for the completion of the EIS nor when a final decision will be made to deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa. Partial deregulation does NOT have to wait until after the EIS is complete, which the USDA estimates is approximately a year away. During the Supreme Court proceedings, USDA-APHIS stated it saw no reason to block expanded planting in the interim of the EIS completion.

USDA-APHIS had a proposed framework in place for partial deregulation at the time of the original court proceedings to allow farmers to plant.

Alfalfa is planted in the spring and fall, and Monsanto and its seed partner, Forage Genetics International (FGI), hope to be able to deliver seed in time for fall planting under USDA’s guidance.

UPDATE: It’s unclear whether this is a misinterpretation of yesterday’s ruling or a purposeful misdirection, but in its ruling the Supreme Court did NOT give legal standing for lawsuits or injury claims as the result of cross-pollination or gene flow between conventional/organic alfalfa and biotech alfalfa. What the court said is that litigants have constitutional standing to challenge the government’s regulatory process. Those are completely different.

What about sugarbeets?

The Supreme Court decision doesn’t a have direct impact on other crops, including Roundup Ready sugarbeets.

What it does is give a clear legal process to environmental challenges. A court can’t order an injunction (ban) on the presumption of harm (as it did in Roundup Ready alfalfa), but must follow a four-factor test to determine whether injunctive relief is necessary. Learn more about the four-factor test (and why this ban didn’t pass muster), in the official court ruling.

For more details, check out www.monsanto.com/roundupreadyalfalfa.

Resources on Today’s Decision:

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Decision in Monsanto’s Case – Legal Planet (UCLA/Berkley Law blog)

High Court Lifts Ban on Monsanto’s Alfalfa Seed – Law360 blog

Supreme Court Decides on Alfafa Case – Biofortified

Supreme Court’s Ruling on GE Alfalfa: Who Won? – Grist

Additional Resources on Alfalfa:

Roundup Ready Alfalfa page – USDA
Supreme Court hearing on GMO Alfalfa – Biofortified.org
Roundup Ready Alfalfa: An EmergingTechnology – University of California-Davis

6 Responses to "Supreme Court Decision on Biotech Alfalfa – Who Wins?"

  1. Seems to me that Monsanto is a company that from the beginning has only had their own interests in mind: never truly addressing their negative environmental impact or their trampling effect on small time farmers. Congratulations Monsanto for creating yet another unstable GM crop for America. We applaud your greediness.

    • D. – I think you are ignoring the interest of lots of farmers – both big and small – who are searching for tools to control weeds, protect their crops from insects and help them increase yield. Small farmers do use our technology. There are farmers who choose not to (both large and small), and they have always had that choice.

      The only way we make a profit is if we sell something customers want and need.

    • “Small time farmers” – trampled by access to seed technology which improves their bottom line and reduces their workload. Shackled by an evil corporation to not spend endless days in the field battling weeds. Oppressed into situations where rather than spraying for insects they get to do something else entirely.

  2. This decision of the Court to allow GMO Alfalfa is another disaster waiting to happen for organic and conventional farmers,whose crops can be contaminataed by polination from the GMO crops, resulting in lost income and poisoning of the soil and water from the applications of Monsanto’s Roundup.

  3. Mica…The decision of the Court just shows how alot of money can get a good lawyer. Big business has never had the interest of anything but their own bottom line as a concern. I agree the only way you make a profit is by selling something customers want and need…but when that “silver bullet solution” comes with a price…is it a silver bullet? When Monsanto’s patent on a chelating agent..glyphosate/Round-up was about to expire…Bt genetics found their way onto the market place.

    • @Iowa Farmer – I agree that there is no “silver bullet solution.” None of our products are silver bullets. No such thing in any industry.

      I’m unclear on your comment about patent expiration. Are you talking about the expiration on glyphosate or on Roundup Ready soybeans?


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