State of Science :: Commentaries
Comments on the Supreme Court's Decision in the RR Alfalfa Case
Author(s): Dr. Brian Baker
Alfred State College
After reading the decision as well as Justice Stevens' dissenting opinion, questions remain. I'm suspicious when you have a near-unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court and both parties claim victory.
Alito's opinion focused narrowly on procedural questions related to the National Environmental Party Act (NEPA). The bottom line is the Court said that Roundup Ready alfalfa (RRA) is still not allowed, as the Center for Food Safety has reported, and the USDA is not required to allow it. In addition, before RRA can be planted, the USDA has to approve it.
As reported by biotech supporters, the Court did lift the lower court's injunction on planting, but said that USDA-APHIS still needed to approve RRA within the bounds of NEPA. The suit was premature and for the most part left the status quo in place. The Court disregarded arguments by Monsanto asking the court to rule what specifically could be considered grounds for denial, and in effect deferred to the agency. So it is up to USDA, not the courts to decide. If the USDA doesn't follow NEPA, or completes a shoddy, assumption-ridden decision, the plaintiffs can sue USDA again, and it is a virtual certainty they will, under such circumstances, choose to do so.
Justice Stevens' opinion was much more clear and decisively in favor of the respondents. He thought the injunction was appropriate and needed to stand because, in the words of Justice Stevens:
"The District Court in this case was put in an unenviable position… In front of it was strong evidence that RRA poses a serious threat to the environment and American business, and that limits on RRA deregulation might not be followed or enforced and that even if they were, the newly engineered gene might nevertheless spread to other crops."