* Environmental groups, conventional seed companies sued
* U.S. government opposed Monsanto’s appeal
* Arguments expected in April, decision by late June (adds details)
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Friday it would hear an appeal by Monsanto Co MON.N of a ruling that barred the company from selling its genetically modified alfalfa seed, until an environmental review is done.
The justices agreed to review a ruling by a U.S. appeals court in California that upheld a federal judge’s injunction barring the sales until the federal government finished an environmental impact study on how the Roundup Ready seed could affect nearby crops.
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 did a full environmental study.
Monsanto intervened on the government’s side in the suit.
Monsanto was supported in its appeal to the Supreme Court by a number of groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the American Seed Trade Association and the National Corn Growers Association.
But the federal government opposed the appeal.
U.S. Justice Department attorneys said an agency of the Agriculture Department on Dec. 18 began a 60-day public comment period on a draft environmental impact statement, and that it then would issue a final assessment.
Once that process has been completed, the injunction will expire and the current appeal will become moot, they told the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court agreed to decide the case anyway. It will hear arguments most likely in April, with a decision expected by the end of June.
The court’s order said Justice Stephen Breyer did not take part in considering the case. His brother, a federal judge in California, had entered the lower court injunction in the case. (Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Gunna Dickson)