By Richard Keller, AgProfessional editor

Will last week's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that a nationwide injunction against the cultivation of biotech alfalfa have a positive impact on reducing litigation against additional biotech crop registrations in the U.S.?


The Supreme Court reversed a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court that basically resulted in a nationwide ban on cultivation of alfalfa resistant to glyphosate, or Roundup herbicide specifically. Environmental groups and organic alfalfa farmers sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture claiming the agency's decision to grant deregulated status (registration) to Roundup Ready alfalfa violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).


Several ag groups filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court in support of Monsanto in the Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms case. As the ag groups noted in reporting the ruling, "The Supreme Court reversed the injunction, finding that the District Court went too far in presuming that the only remedy available for a NEPA violation is a nationwide injunction rather than the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) proposed partial deregulation."


The court explained that 'a partial deregulation need not cause respondents any injury at all, much less irreparable injury.'


"Accordingly, the court concluded that 'the District court abused its discretion in enjoining APHIS from effecting a partial deregulation and in prohibiting the possibility of planting in accordance with the terms of such a deregulation.'"


Also, as the friends of the court, and in this case supporters of Monsanto noted, the decision "reinforces earlier Supreme Court decisions instructing federal courts that nationwide injunctions are extraordinary remedies."


Where does this leave the U.S. biotech industry for moving ahead on other biotech crop introductions? Monsanto and its friends of court members, such as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Wheat Growers, see the Supreme Court ruling as limiting anti-biotech groups’ options for stopping progress in development and registration of additional biotech crops and traits.


What is interesting is that the anti-biotech groups are claiming victory even though the 7 to 1 vote overturned the alfalfa injunction fought for by the activist groups.


"With the oversight of GE alfalfa back in the control of the USDA, the agency must conduct a complete environmental impact statement (EIS) before deregulation can take place. The USDA notes the EIS will take about a year to conduct. In the event the USDA deregulates GE alfalfa, further litigation will be needed to keep the harmful seeds off farmlands, the National Cooperative Grocers Association claimed.


"'This clearly is a victory for farmers seeking to grow food and raise livestock in harmony with nature and for consumers seeking to make informed food purchases,' said Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer for the NCGA. 'The Center for Food Safety (CFS) has been a leader in the fight against GE alfalfa. We were proud to sign an amicus brief in this case detailing GE alfalfa's detriment to organic food. But it’s also clear pressure against GE alfalfa must continue.'


"NCGA encourages individuals to affirm their opposition to GE alfalfa by contacting their legislators and voicing support for its continued regulation."


In the not too distant future, even with continued opposition from organic and other anti-biotech groups, because of the Supreme Court ruling and the ag industry's expectation of less court interference, I'm hopeful that deregulation for biotech rice and wheat, two of the world's staple grains, can happen as new seed products are developed.


It would appear that biotech rice and wheat will move toward being accepted by the various consumer nations of the two grains. India and China are involved in biotech rice development. As for wheat, Australia is ahead of the U.S. in researching and eventually registering biotech wheat. Those three countries have clout to drive world trade and opinion in favor of biotech crops.


The facts are that more biotech crop production has to be a part of the answer for feeding the world population of 2030 and beyond.