In a 7-1 ruling issued today, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 2007 lower court ruling that placed an injunction on the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa until a USDA environmental impact statement was published in final form.
Today’s ruling will still require that USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) establish interim rules before planting can be resumed. Even so, Monsanto officials were ecstatic.
The Supreme Court ruling was 7-1, with Justice John Paul Stevens the lone dissenter. The brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was the trial judge who imposed the injunction three years ago, and as such, Breyer did not participate in the case.
A draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on Roundup Ready Alfalfa was released this past December, reporting no significant effects on humans or the environment. APHIS is expected to release a comment later today.
Today's Supreme Court ruling requires that the legal process goes "back down the tree" to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, then to the San Francisco District Court that issued the original injunction and then to USDA's APHIS. Observers say this process could take several weeks at a minimum for this to play out.
Whether APHIS issues interim planging guidelines prior to releasing the final EIS probably depends on how close APHIS is to finalizing the EIS. The agency has already closed the comment period on the draft EIS.
"Fall alfalfa planting season is almost upon us," says Mark McCaslin, president of Forage Genetics International. Forage Genetics markets the Roundup Ready Alfalfa through a licensing agreement with Monsanto. "When Judge Breyer issued the injunction in 2007, he did allow existing acres of Roundup Ready Alfalfa to stay in the ground. We had some seed producing acres and we honored those contracts.
"So we have seed available. We have packaged some of it, and could move to market within several days if we were allowed to," says McCaslin.