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Does a company that develops a new genetically modified seed have to conduct a full environmental review before it can put that product on the market? The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday that it would hear an appeal by Monsanto of a ruling that barred the company from selling a new alfalfa seed until it conducted an environmental study. 

The background: In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that it did not have to conduct a formal environmental review of a new, Roundup Ready alfalfa seed produced by Monsanto. A conventional seed company, Geerston Seed Farms, and environmental groups sued the US. Department of Agriculture in 2006 to force the agency to conduct an environmental review of the seed before it granted approval. The company said USDA should review how the seed might affect nearby fields. A federal judge agreed with Geerston and that ruling was upheld by a U.S. appeals court in California. The USDA proceeded with its environmental review and on December 18th began a 60 day comment period on a draft environmental impact statement on the alfalfa seed.

Monsanto asked the Supreme Court to review the appeals court ruling. The U.S. Department of Justice opposed Monsanto’s request, but the Supreme Court said it would hear the case. It will hear arguments in April. Justice Stephen Breyer will not take part in this case, since his brother, a federal judge in California, issued the first decision in this case.

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