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:
- High Court Sides With Monsanto in Alfalfa Case -Wall Street Journal
- Monsanto Wins as Court Backs Alfalfa Seed Planting (Update1) – Bloomberg
- Monsanto wins Supreme Court ruling – Des Moines Register
- Justices Back Monsanto on Biotech Seed Planting – Wall Street Journal
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