A hearing on a preliminary injunction banning the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed is scheduled April 27 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Monsanto, Forage Genetics International, and several farmers have been granted intervenor status in the case and will offer oral arguments on the preliminary injunction.

As a result of the temporary injunction issued in February, Roundup Ready alfalfa seed sales were halted nationwide March 12. The federal judge sided with a group of radical anti-biotechnology organizations and two alfalfa seed companies that want to force Monsanto to file an environmental impact statement on the herbicide-resistant technology before resuming sales.

However, growers could continue to plant RR alfalfa until March 30, using seed purchased before March 12. The injunction has no impact on Roundup Ready alfalfa already planted.

It had little impact on California, where the majority of alfalfa was planted well before March 30. But it did affect Midwest alfalfa producers, who were basically precluded from planting RR alfalfa because they don't plant until well after March 30.

“We don't plant until the middle of May,” said Dale Scheps, who operates a 145-cow dairy farm in Almena, Wisc. He planted 35 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2006 and had already purchased enough seed to plant another 35 acres in 2007.

“It's a major setback to have this technology taken away from us,” Scheps said. “It will needlessly drive up our feed costs because we will have to replace superior quality hay.”

An estimated 200,000 acres of California's 1.1 million acres of alfalfa are already planted to Roundup Ready varieties, which were approved by the federal government for sale to producers last year. Most of the Roundup Ready alfalfa planted so far has been in the West.

“We are hopeful that a reasoned approach in this matter will address questions about the regulatory approval process for Roundup Ready alfalfa, while maintaining farmer access to this beneficial technology,” said Jerry Steiner, executive vice president for Monsanto.

“The extensive regulatory dossier for Roundup Ready alfalfa, combined with farmer stewardship agreements, provides a robust and responsible approach to managing the environmental questions raised by the plaintiffs in this case.”

The court has already accepted the fact that Roundup Ready alfalfa poses no harm to humans and livestock. As part of its regulatory filing for Roundup Ready alfalfa in April, 2004, Monsanto provided USDA with an extensive dossier that addresses a variety of environmental, stewardship, and crop management considerations. Other regulatory agencies around the world, including Canada and Japan, have confirmed the environmental safety of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

The lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was brought by the Center for Food Safety and others as Geertson Seed Farms Inc. et al. v. Mike Johanns, et al.

Monsanto Company said in this case, the court had previously ruled that the USDA had failed to follow procedural requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act in granting non-regulated status to Roundup Ready alfalfa under the Plant Protection Act, and would have to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.

In the decision issued in mid-February, the judge ruled that the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) did not follow the proper process in assessing possible environmental effects of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

“This is a major victory for farmers and the environment,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, said in a news release hailing the court decision.

“This is another nail in the coffin for the USDA's hands-off approach to regulations on these risky engineered crops,” said Will Rostov, senior attorney of The Center for Food Safety,

The “risky engineered crops” are now grown on 222 million acres in 21 countries, an 11 percent jump in one year. The U.S. acreage is about 123 million in biotech crops. When first introduced commercially in 1996, 4.3 million acres were in biotech crops in six countries.