The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning, April 27, on Monsanto’s challenge to a three-year ban on genetically engineered alfalfa. We’ll be reporting on a post-argument panel discussion hosted by the Environmental Law Institute at hayandforage.com. Feel free to express your thoughts at the end of that story or find us on www.facebook.com/hayandforage. Or tweet us: @hayandforage.

At issue is a 2007 lower-court ruling that stopped the sale and planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa seeds until USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) completed an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the potential environmental effects of deregulating the product. Monsanto appealed that decision in 2008 and 2009, but lost both appeals. The Supreme Court agreed to take the case this past January. This will be the first genetically engineered crop case ever heard by the court. See a “Timeline Of Key Roundup Ready Alfalfa Events” developed by Monsanto.

In a final reply brief filed with the court in mid-April, Monsanto attorneys said the case is about fairness and choice for farmers. Among the company’s major contentions:

  • The safety and efficacy of Roundup Ready alfalfa was never an issue in the original lawsuit against USDA; however, the injunction took away farmers’ rights to choose to plant the technology – without scientific reasoning.
  • Farmers should be able to count on biotech crop approvals issued by the experts in federal agencies – or at least be confident that challenges to these decisions require consideration of scientific evidence.
  • Having a sound process for resolving disputed facts, like those in this case, serves the interests of farmers and the public. Courts should not substitute facts reviewed by expert agencies, in this case APHIS-USDA, with their judgment.
A total of 18 agricultural, business and legal groups have filed five friends-of-the-court briefs in support of Monsanto. Included are the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance, the U.S. American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Home Builders, Allied Education Foundation and the Pacific Legal Foundation. See the briefs and get other information on the case.

In a posting on its Web site last week, the Center For Food Safety (CFS) noted that the state attorneys general in California, Massachusetts and Oregon have filed a brief supporting the center’s opposition to Monsanto in the case. The brief emphasizes the “states’ interests in protecting their natural resources and their citizens’ rights to be informed about the environmental impacts of federal actions.” CFS brought the original lawsuit that led to the 2007 Roundup Ready alfalfa ban.

Other groups filing briefs supporting the CFS position, according to the posting, include the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the U.S., the Center for Biological Diversity, organic businesses, farmers and more than a dozen law professors, scholars and several former general counsels of the Council on Environmental Quality.

The court is expected to hand down a final decision in the case by June.