Beveridge & Diamond

Court Victory for Genetically Engineered Crop

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., February 2, 2012

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the agriculture-biotechnology industry received welcome news on January 5, 2012.  The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California upheld APHIS’s decision to grant non-regulated status to Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready Alfalfa (RR Alfalfa), in a case commonly referred to as “Alfalfa II.”  See Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, No. 11-1310 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 5, 2012).  The Court’s opinion is available here.

Courts had previously struck down APHIS deregulation decisions that were based on environmental assessments (EAs), including APHIS’s prior deregulation of RR Alfalfa, finding that the APHIS EAs were inadequate under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  Relying on their earlier successful NEPA challenges, the plaintiffs argued that APHIS’s more detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) for RR Alfalfa was similarly flawed.  However, in this case, Judge Samuel Conti rejected each of the plaintiffs’ substantive arguments, finding that APHIS had provided the requisite analysis under NEPA.  Beyond a favorable outcome for RR Alfalfa, the decision provides APHIS and industry favorable reasoning and guidance on which to rely in approaching other deregulation decisions and defending such decisions if (or more likely when) plaintiffs challenge them. 

This decision is not the end of the RR Alfalfa story, as the plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit the day after the district court decision was issued.  See Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, No. 12-15052 (9th Cir. appeal docketed Jan. 10, 2012).  The notice of appeal is available here.  The Ninth Circuit’s briefing schedule requires the appellants’ opening brief by April 16, 2012, the appellees’ response by May 16, 2012, and the appellants’ reply brief by May 30, 2012, and provides for subsequent oral argument.  Even though the litigation over RR Alfalfa continues, APHIS and the agriculture-biotechnology industry can draw confidence from this significant district court victory.

For more information on developments in this case and other agriculture-biotechnology litigation, please contact Kathy Szmuszkovicz at or (202) 789-6037, Jamie Auslander at or (202) 789-6009, or Sean Roberts at or (202) 789-6017.