Oral argument in litigation over whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) properly deregulated a genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa seed took place before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 27, 2010. Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, No. 09-475 (U.S.). The Ninth Circuit imposed a ban on use of the GE seed until the USDA completes an environmental impact statement that accounts for potential contamination of conventional alfalfa crops. While several justices questioned the appellate court’s authority to fully ban the product’s sale, Justice Antonin Scalia contended that GE crop planting “doesn’t even destroy the current plantings of non-genetically engineered alfalfa. This is not the end of the world. It really isn’t. The most it does is make it difficult for those farmers who want to cater to the European market, which will not accept genetically engineered alfalfa.”

According to press reports, environmentalists and agribusiness, watching the case closely, filed numerous amicus briefs. Environmentalists are apparently concerned whether the Court’s decision will affect a federal law requiring the government to take environmental impact into account before approving GE products, while business interests argue that cross-pollination is unlikely and that allowing the lower court’s ruling to stand could stifle the development of biotech crop varieties. Organic food producers, including dairies, are also following the case, noting that alfalfa hay, which is fed to their cows, would cripple their industry if contaminated. Monsanto’s counsel was quoted as saying, “This Supreme Court hearing is about farmers, fairness and choice.” A decision in the case is expected in June. See Center for Food Safety, April 19, 2010; The New York Times, April 22, 2010; DesMoinesRegister. com, April 25, 2010; Associated Press, April 27, 2010; FoodNavigatorUSA.com, April 28, 2010.