U.S. court cuts off appeals in Monsanto alfalfa case
LOS ANGELES |
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday left in place an injunction barring Monsanto Co from selling its Roundup Ready alfalfa seed until the government completes an environmental impact study on how the genetically modified product could affect neighboring crops.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the company's request for a rehearing of its appeal and said it would accept no more petitions for rehearing in the three-year-old case.
Monsanto's only remaining avenue appears to be U.S. Supreme Court review. A Monsanto spokesman could not be reached for comment.
"This is a major victory for consumers, for farmers and for the public as far as protecting their rights and the rights of farmers to sow the crop of their choice and consumers to eat the food of their choice," said George Kimbrell, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety.
Kimbrell, whose group is a plaintiff in the case, predicted that Monsanto's chances of getting Supreme Court review of the case were "slim to none and slim just left town."
Environmental groups and conventional seed companies, led by Geertson Seed Farms, sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in February 2006 to force it to rescind its 2005 approval of the Monsanto seed until it does a full environmental study.
Monsanto intervened on the government's side in the suit.
The plaintiffs claimed cross pollination of genetically modified crops could contaminate conventional alfalfa fields and overuse of the herbicide Roundup, which the seeds were bred to resist, could foul soil and groundwater or give rise to Roundup-resistant "super weeds."
The trial judge, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer, ruled in 2007 that an agency study had failed to address those concerns. The Ninth Circuit affirmed that ruling twice.
The USDA did not join Monsanto in its petition for rehearing. The USDA has agreed to conduct the environmental impact study, but has not indicated when the study would be completed, Kimbrell said.
A USDA spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
Genetically modified crops, particularly corn and soybeans that are resistant to herbicide, are popular with U.S. farmers. St. Louis-based Monsanto is the leading developer of such crops.
About two dozen countries allow the cultivation of biotech crops, but much of Europe, Japan, and most of Africa remain opposed to genetically altered crops.
The case is Geertson Seed Farms et al v. Mike Johanns as Secretary of the USDA, Case No. 07-16458, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
(Reporting by Gina Keating; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
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