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article imageMonsanto loses key legal decision in US, GE beets to be dug up

By Stephanie Dearing     Dec 2, 2010 in Food
San Francisco - A US-based battle over the legality of planting Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beets has just been won by opponents of the technology. Monsanto has announced it will fight back.
Technically, Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beets have been approved for use by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Only one piece of the approval is missing - the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and American groups opposing the biotech beets have been fighting to have the government agency uphold its responsibility to thoroughly vet the new product before allowing the product to be grown.
The USDA has waived the usual process -- unlawfully, said Judge Jeffrey S. White said in his decision. That deregulation allowed Monsanto to plant the GE beets, in spite of actions taken by groups such as the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice. These two groups represent a coalition of conservation groups, consumers and farmers who had launched a legal challenge, said the Center for Food Safety in a press release.
On Tuesday, Federal District Judge Jeffrey S. White "... issued a preliminary injunction ordering the immediate destruction of hundreds of acres of genetically engineered (GE) sugar beet seedlings ..." The decision was rendered because "... the seedlings had been planted in violation of federal law."
Undaunted, Monsanto issued its own press release to state the company is seeking an appeal of Judge White's decision. Monsanto said the decision only affects the 2012 sugar beets that were planted in September. Those sugar beets planted before September are not affected, said the company. The corporation also noted that 2011 GE sugar beets are not affected by the judicial decision.
Monsanto will be attacking the recent ruling with vehemence. Lawyer David Snively spoke for Monsanto saying “With due respect, we believe the court’s action overlooked the factual evidence presented that no harm would be caused by these plantings, and is plainly inconsistent with the established law as recently announced by the U.S. Supreme Court. We intend to seek an immediate stay of this ruling and appeal to the Court of Appeals.
The issues that will be appealed are important to all US farmers who choose to plant biotech crops. We will spare no effort in challenging this ruling on the basis of flawed legal procedure and lack of consideration of important evidence.”
While Monsanto claims the new GE sugar beet is safe, those seeking to block the new product say otherwise. The Center for Food Safety stresses the different safety concerns, saying "... The court outlined the many ways in which GE sugar beets could harm the environment and consumers, noting that containment efforts were insufficient and past contamination incidents were “too numerous” to allow the illegal crop to remain in the ground. In his court order, Judge White noted, “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 tried to circumvent his prior ruling, which made GE sugar beets illegal." Paul Achitoff of Earthjustice, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said “USDA thumbed its nose at the judicial system and the public by allowing this crop to be grown without any environmental review. Herbicide resistant crops just like this have been shown to result in more toxic chemicals in our soil and water. USDA has shown no regard for the environmental laws, and we’re pleased that Judge White ordered the appropriate response.”
GE sugar beets have been grown in 10 US states and two Canadian provinces over the past four years, said Monsanto. "... In North America, roughly 95 percent of the 2010 sugar beet acreage was safely planted with Roundup Ready varieties."
While Monsanto claims all the legal wrangling will only cost farmers and create shortages of sugar, opponents claimed victory with Tuesday's ruling. Senior Staff Attorney George Kimbrell for the Center for Food Safety said, “Today’s decision is a seminal victory for farmers and the environment and a vindication of the rule of law. The public interest has prevailed over USDA’s repeated efforts to implement the unlawful demands of the biotech industry.”
This is the second case of a GE agricultural product being approved prematurely, said the Center for Food Safety. The organization further noted "Earlier this year, the Department of Justice announced it had opened a formal investigation into possible anticompetitive practices in Monsanto’s use of such patented crops. Growing previous Roundup Ready crops such as soy, cotton, and corn have led to greater use of herbicides. It also has led to the spread of herbicide resistant weeds on millions of acres throughout the United States and other countries where such crops are grown, and contamination of conventional and organic crops, which has been costly to U.S. farmers. There is also evidence that such herbicide-resistant crops may be more susceptible to serious plant diseases.
In an earlier case the court ruled that USDA had violated NEPA by allowing the crop to be commercialized without first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In August the court made any future planting and sale unlawful until USDA complies with federal law. (USDA has said it expects to complete an EIS in spring 2012.) But almost immediately after the ruling, USDA issued permits allowing companies to plant seedlings to produce seed for future Roundup Ready sugar beet crops, even though the crops are still illegal to grow, and no EIS has been prepared."
Regarding Canadian-grown GE sugar beets, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) said only one company processes those beets, and that is Lantic Sugar. CBAN has released a letter the organization wrote to Lantic, asking the company to stop using GE sugar beets. Health Canada approved the roundup ready beets in Canada in 2005.
An Environmental Impact Statement for GE beets to be grown in the US will likely not be ready until the end of 2011, according to a fact sheet.
The Sugar Industry Biotech Council notes that roundup ready sugar beets have been approved in Japan, the European Union, Australia and New Zealand.
More about Sugar beets, Monsanto, Center for food safety, United states department agriculture, Roundup ready sugar beets
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