Is Roundup Ready alfalfa in your future?

Opinions & sacred cows

by Ron Goble

Monsanto can breathe a collective sigh of relief. The U.S. Supreme Court in early summer ruled in favor of Monsanto, 7-1, and reversed the lower court’s ban on Roundup Ready alfalfa (RRA), which had thousands of growers unable to take advantage of  the advanced technology.

“This Supreme Court ruling is important for every American farmer, not just alfalfa growers. All growers can rely on the expertise of USDA, and trust that future challenges to biotech approvals must now be based on scientific facts, not speculation,” stated David F. Snively, Monsanto senior vice president and general counsel.

“This is exceptionally good news received in time for the next planting season. Farmers have been waiting to hear this for quite some time,” said Steve Welker, Monsanto alfalfa business lead. “We have Roundup Ready alfalfa seed ready to deliver and await USDA guidance on its release. Our goal is to have everything in place for growers to plant in fall 2010.”

The high court ruled favorably on the side of Monsanto in the case that centered on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s procedures in approving biotech alfalfa.

In the lower court case, environmental groups and individual organic alfalfa farmers sued USDA, claiming its decision to grant deregulated status to glyphosate-tolerant (Roundup Ready) alfalfa violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The ninth circuit court determined that USDA should have done an environmental impact statement (EIS) before making the deregulation decision, and the court ultimately halted almost all planting and sales of Roundup Ready alfalfa pending issuance of the impact statement.

The highest court said the District Court “erred in entering the nationwide injunction against planting RR alfalfa, for two independent reasons: 1) because it was inappropriate for the District Court to foreclose even the possibility of a partial and temporary deregulation, it follows that it was inappropriate to enjoin planting in accordance with such a deregulation decision; 2) an injunction is a drastic and extraordinary remedy, which should not be granted as a matter of course.”

The court documents went on to explain that if a less drastic remedy was sufficient to redress their injury, no recourse to the additional and extraordinary relief of an injunction was warranted.

The case could have far-reaching impacts on environmental policy as well as on the lower court’s decision on biotech sugar beets. Prior to the injunction, Roundup Ready alfalfa was planted by approximately 5,500 growers across 263,000 acres. Alfalfa is the fourth-largest crop grown in the U.S., with 23 million acres grown annually.

If environmentalists want to obtain an injunction for NEPA violations it still must go through a four-part test: 1) the party must have suffered irreparable harm; 2) the remedies available at law must not adequately compensate for the injury; 3) a remedy in equity is warranted; and 4) a permanent injunction must not do the public interest a disservice.

Since almost every area of our lives is impacted by an over-reaching environmental lobby, this decision is a breath of fresh air, for sure! At a time when it seems we can no longer drill for oil in America, no longer build oil refineries, no longer build nuclear power plants or more clean-burning coal plants, maybe this decision is a small indication we are returning to common sense decision making.

“All growers can rely on the expertise of USDA, and trust that future challenges to biotech approvals must now be based on scientific facts, not speculations.”

–David F. Snively

Monsanto Sr. VP

Have an opinion or response? E-mail Ron Goble, Associate publisher/editor, Western DairyBusiness at: