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D.C. Circuit Court says "No" to Scotts and Monsanto on Biotech Grasses

Ruling is Latest in a String of Victories in Which the Center for Food Safety Successfully Challenged Inadequate Oversight of Biotech Crops

Washington, DC, March 19, 2008 - The Center for Food Safety announced today that a Federal Court of Appeals has tossed out the appeal of Scotts Grass Company, ending a long-running dispute over the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) approval of the open-air field testing of genetically engineered "Round-up Ready" (GE) grasses without assessing any potential environmental impacts. The GE grasses are owned by Scotts Grass Company using patents owned by Monsanto.

In 2007 a federal district court ruled that the USDA's approvals of the tests were illegal because they did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). USDA declined to appeal the decision and instead instituted new NEPA policies for any future field tests. The court also ruled that USDA had to re-assess whether the GE grasses were "noxious weeds" under the Plant Protection Act. Scotts intervened in the case before the lower court's ruling. Scotts then appealed the decision, challenging the plaintiffs' ability to bring the case and the lower court's decision. Yesterday the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted the plaintiffs' motion and dismissed the case.

The Center for Food Safety's (CFS) legal director Joe Mendelson hailed the decision, saying that "the Court's ruling vindicates our challenge to USDA's inadequate review of these biotech grasses. This is the latest ruling in a string of cases exposing USDA's failure to properly assess the potential risks in testing and commercializing GE crops and plants."

Creeping Bentgrass and Kentucky Bluegrass, two robust, weedy perennial grasses, pose significant environmental risks to the environment when genetically engineered for Round Up resistance, including the threat of biological contamination of naturally occurring grass species through pollen transfer. In this case, the illegally-approved GE grass field trials were later found in two studies to have contaminated surrounding areas, including a National Grassland. Under a 2007 settlement agreement, USDA fined Scotts $500,000 and assessed other penalties for infractions in testing the GE grasses, including their contamination of the environment from the field trials in this case.

Beyond the significant potential environmental risks of genetically engineered crops, the case is also a strong legal precedent limiting corporate intervenor-defendants' ability to continue legal challenges to government action without the government's involvement. "The Court's dismissal of Scotts' appeal sends a strong signal to Scotts, Monsanto and other corporations that they will not be permitted to prolong litigation after the government has conceded defeat," said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety.

The case is ICTA et al. v. Johanns, et al., Docket No. 03-0020 (D.D.C. Feb. 5, 2007), motion to dismiss granted Scotts v. ICTA et al., Docket No. 07-5238 (D.C. Cir. March 17, 2008).

Summary of other recent related CFS cases: Last year, the Federal Court of the Northern District of California ruled that USDA violated NEPA by approving for commercial sale Monsanto's GE "Roundup Ready" alfalfa without sufficient NEPA environmental review and ordered a halt to the sale and planting of GE alfalfa until USDA prepares an environmental impacts statement (EIS). In 2006, the Federal District Court of Hawaii ruled that the USDA violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and NEPA by granting field trials of biopharmaceutical, drug-producing, GE crops without first conducting necessary environmental review. And on January 23, 2008, the Center for Food Safety, along with the Organic Seed Alliance, the Sierra Club, High Mowing Seeds and Earthjustice, filed suit against USDA for approving GE sugar beets for commercial use in violation of NEPA without first conducing proper environmental review.

George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety (CFS), 202-547-9359,gkimbrell@...
Kevin Golden, CFS California Office, (415) 826-2770,kgolden@...

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