Back in 2007, a federal district court order overturned approval from the Department of Agriculture and halted the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa pending an environmental impact statement (EIS) from the USDA.
Monsanto has fought this decision repeatedly in the courts and is now taking the case to the Supreme Court even thought the final EIS report is due for publication next month.
Garrett Kasper, a spokesperson for Monsanto, said the company is continuing the legal battle in order to fight for grower rights and set a legal precedent.
The Center for Food Safety disagrees with this assessment. Andrew Kimbrell, the executive director of the organic lobby group,said Monsanto is pushing the case all the way to the Supreme Court even though the USDA analysis is now complete and the US government has actively opposed further litigation.
This, Kimbrell said: “Underscores the great lengths that Monsanto will go to further its mission of patent control of our food system and selling more pesticides.”
Monsanto claims the court case is not about patent control but rather the freedom of growers to choose their products.
Kasper said the court injunction failed to establish that the product posed a “threat of irreparable damage,” which he said was necessary to justify a temporary ban.
Citing a case against US Navy about alleged damage to marine life from sonar, the company spokesperson said the Supreme Court has overruled court similar injunctions in the past.
But the Center for Food Safety is confident that the Supreme Court will uphold earlier opinions. “Although we believe a further hearing is unnecessary, we are confident we will again prevail, as the lower courts have already three times determined.”
Irrespective of the outcome, whether planting Roundup Ready alfalfa will eventually be permitted depends most crucially on the conclusions reached in the EIS. Kasper said Monsanto is encouraged by the draft report, which he described as being “pretty favourable.”
The final report is due for publication in February before a court decides on whether the ban on biotech alfalfa should be maintained.
Alfalfa is the fourth most commonly grown crop in the US, and according to Monsanto, 1 percent is currently Roundup Ready alfalfa. Under the 2007 court injunction farmers already using the GM crop were permitted to continue but any further planting was halted.