(Beyond Pesticides, March 3, 2011) In a federal appeals court decision last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Monsanto won the reversal of the federal judge’s order to destroy genetically engineered (GE) sugar beet seedlings planted last year. The original decision comes from a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety (CFS) on behalf of a coalition of farmers and conservation groups which found that the GE sugar beet seedlings planted were in violation of federal law. Though the court outlined the many ways in which GE sugar beets could harm the environment and consumers in the initial decision, the three-judge appeals panel said that the groups hadn’t shown that the seedlings were likely to contaminate natural sugar beet plants.
Given USDA’s recent decisions earlier this year to partially deregulate GE sugar beets and to fully deregulate GE alfalfa, this reversal is not entirely shocking, though it is still a blow to organic and conventional sugar beet farmers, consumers and environmentalists.
The agency has not completed an environmental impact statement (EIS) on GE sugar beets, which are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphaste, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s “RoundUp” weedkiller. In November 2010, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) published an environmental assessment (EA) evaluating a range of options, including authorizing production of GE sugar beets under APHIS permit conditions. Without completing the EIS, APHIS concluded that the GE sugar beet root crop, when grown under the agency’s “imposed conditions,” can be partially deregulated without posing a plant pest risk or having a significant effect on the environment.
This conclusion is at sharp odds with earlier court rulings and the views of growers of organic and non-GE crops, who may see their crops contaminated by the GE sugar beets, threatening their livelihoods and the ability of farmers and consumers to choose non-GE foods. In the initial court ruling which awarded a preliminary injunction to destroy the sugar beet seedlings that were planted in violation of federal law, the court found that past incidents of contamination were too numerous and current containment efforts were insufficient to allow the crop to remain in the ground. Federal District Judge Jeffrey S. White, noted in his court order, “Farmers and consumers would likely suffer harm from cross-contamination” between GE sugar beets and non-GE crops. He continued, “The legality of Defendants’ conduct does not even appear to be a close question,” noting that the government and Monsanto had tried to circumvent his prior ruling which made GE sugar beets illegal.
Sugar beets are a fairly small crop, planted on a little over one million acres, mainly in northern states, and worth somewhat more than $1 billion. Beets account for roughly half of the American sugar supply, with the rest coming from sugar cane. The GE beets accounted for more than 90 percent of the sugar beets grown last year.
Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Sierra Club and Cornucopia Institute formally filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the agency on February 7, concerning its decision to allow unrestricted deregulation of GE alfalfa and vows to also overturn the GE sugar beet decision on the grounds that it is unlawful.
Center for Food Safety’s senior attorney and counsel for the lawsuit to be filed against the USDA regarding GE alfalfa, George Kimbrell, is scheduled to speak at Beyond Pesticides’ “Sustainable Community – Practical solutions for health and the environment,” April 8-9 in Denver, CO. Among other cases, Mr. Kimbrell was counsel in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms (2010), the first case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on the impacts of GE crops.
Call or email President Obama and USDA and tell them NOT to deregulate GE alfalfa or GE Sugar Beets. Join the coalition of those opposing the decision including upcoming National Pesticide Forum keynote Maria Rodale (CEO, Rodale, Inc. and author of Organic Manifesto), National Organic Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Organic Trade Association, Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farm, and more.
Source: Bloomberg Media