1.Court Rules in GMO Sugar Beet Case
2.Judge Won't Bar Modified-Beet Planting Immediately
1.Court Rules in GMO Sugar Beet Case
The Center for Food Safety, March 16 2010
Today, federal district Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California denied a request by a coalition of organic seed growers, and conservation and food safety groups seeking a temporary ban on genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets and sugar beet seeds. While Judge White denied the preliminary injunction, he indicated that permanent relief is likely forthcoming: "The parties should not assume that the Court's decision to deny a preliminary injunction is indicative of its views on a permanent injunction pending the full environmental review that APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] is required to do." The court further explained: "While the environmental review is pending, the Court is inclined to order the Intervenor-Defendants to take all efforts … to use conventional [non-GE] seed."
The coalition's motion for preliminary injunction, brought by Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice attorneys, called for a moratorium on all planting, production and use of the genetically modified seeds and beets until the court could consider a permanent remedy to the government's unlawful deregulation of the crop. The coalition will argue for a permanent injunction at a hearing in July.
"Based on today's ruling, we are encouraged that Judge White will order permanent injunction relief," said Paul Achitoff, attorney for Earthjustice. "We will ask the Court to halt the use of genetically engineered sugar beets and seeds until the federal government does its job to protect consumers and farmers alike."
In September 2009, the Northern California district court ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had unlawfully approved Monsanto’s sugar beets, which are genetically engineered to withstand Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, for commercial use. The court found that Roundup Ready sugar beets "may cross-pollinate with non-genetically engineered sugar beets and related Swiss chard and table beets," and ordered the federal government to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The court also ruled that the government's decision to deregulate Roundup Ready sugar beets "may significantly affect the environment."
"Roundup Ready" sugar beets were engineered by Monsanto to tolerate exposure to that corporation’s weed killer. Commercial production of Roundup Ready sugar beets can result in genetic contamination of organic and conventional crops, increased use of Roundup and other herbicides, and loss of consumer choice to buy products with sugar not derived from GE beets.
"Monsanto's gene-altered sugar beets were illegally approved by the Bush Administration’s USDA. The profound economic impacts on organic and conventional farmers, as well as the environment, were not assessed. As a result, the planting of these crops should be halted to avoid further harm," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.
The court ordered APHIS to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before approving Monsanto's petition to deregulate Roundup-Ready sugar beets. As the court explained today, "In light of Plaintiff showing of irreparable harm to the environment, the Court is troubled by maintaining the status quo … while APHIS conducts the environmental review that should have occurred before the sugar beets were deregulated."
Roundup Ready sugar beets grown for seed in Oregon's Willamette Valley will begin to flower as early as mid-May if planting occurs this spring. The pollen from these genetically engineered sugar beets will then begin to blow through the valley, where organic farmers grow sexually compatible organic seed crops, such as Swiss chard and table beets. At around the same time, the Roundup Ready sugar beet root crop will be planted throughout the western U.S.
"The Willamette Valley is the prime region for organic chard and beet seed production," stated Frank Morton, owner of Wild Garden Seed and grower of organic chard and table beet seed. "Without measures to protect farmers like me from GE contamination, organic chard and beets as we know them are at serious risk of being lost."
The planting of Roundup Ready beets across the United States will also have the potential to accelerate environmental impacts from increased toxic herbicides. Roundup Ready crops like corn, soy, alfalfa and sugar beets are designed to withstand repeated dousing with Roundup, which contains the active weed-killing ingredient glyphosate. This leads to overuse of the herbicide, which in turn has already caused Roundup-resistant weeds to develop on millions of acres of farmland. To battle this resistance, farmers often turn to older and more hazardous herbicides like 2,4-D, the active ingredient in Agent Orange.
Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety are representing the Center for Food Safety, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Organic Seed Alliance and the Sierra Club.
In a similar case decided in 2007, a judge banned Roundup-Ready alfalfa. Monsanto is appealing that decision to the US Supreme Court.
2.Judge Won't Bar Modified-Beet Planting Immediately
Bloomberg, March 16 2010
A judge refused to immediately ban planting of sugar beets engineered to be resistant to Monsanto Co.'s herbicide Roundup, warning growers he may later block the planting pending an environmental review.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White in San Francisco ruled today in a lawsuit brought by organic farmers and a food safety group. He told growers he "is inclined to order" that they "take all efforts, going forward, to use conventional seed."
A hearing on whether planting should be barred while the U.S. Agriculture Department studies the environmental impact of the "Roundup Ready" sugar beet seeds is scheduled for July 9. The study could take a few years.
White said that banning spring planting of the genetically engineered sugar beet root crop, which begins in March and April, would lead 14 U.S. sugar beet plants to shut because there’s a shortage of conventional seed. Sugar beets, grown on 1.3 million acres in 10 states, provide half the nation’s sugar supply, according to the Sugar Industry Biotech Council.
The judge said the public’s interest and potential economic harm of a 2010 ban outweighs harm to the farmers and environmental groups that waited until two years after filing their lawsuit to request that growers halt their use of the modified seeds.
"An injunction that would ban the planting and processing of genetically engineered sugar beets in 2010 would have a large detrimental impact on the U.S. domestic sugar supply and price," White said in his ruling.
A bar on planting could also hurt processors such as American Crystal Sugar Co. and Monsanto, which derives millions of dollars in revenue from licensing the herbicide-resistant technology to seed companies, according to court filings and interviews.
The use of seeds engineered to resist Monsanto’s weed killer was deregulated by the Bush administration’s U.S. Agriculture Department five years ago, according to court filings. Today more than 90 percent of the U.S. sugar beet crop comes from the genetically engineered seeds.
Organic farmers say cross-pollination from modified sugar beet plants spoils their crops and their livelihood. Joined by the Center For Food Safety, a Washington-based public health group, they sued the USDA in 2008 challenging the deregulation.
Paul Achitoff, an attorney for the group, said he wasn't surprised that White didn’t order an immediate planting ban.
"Growers said their spring seed planting was already in the ground," Achitoff said in a telephone interview. "But with respect to the seed crop that doesn’t get started until next fall, and the root crop that doesn’t get started until a year from now, he has given them fair warning."
The Sugar Industry Biotech Council, a group comprised of U.S. and Canadian sugar beet growers and processors and seed companies, said the ruling allows growers to proceed with planting this year's crop.
"We look forward to the next phase of the court proceedings where we can present evidence about potential choices for our growers and processors,” the group said in a statement posted on its Web site.
White ruled in September that the government must study the environmental and economic impact of the genetically modified plant. In January, the plaintiffs asked for a court order barring planting until the study is completed.
Monsanto made about $46 million in revenue last year in fees from its sugar beet seed technology, Garrett Kasper, a Monsanto spokesman, said in a March 5 e-mail.
'Ruling Provides Clarity'
"This ruling provides clarity that farmers can plant Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2010," Steve Welker, Monsanto’s sugar beet business manager, said in an e-mailed statement.
A similar lawsuit blocked the planting of “Roundup Ready” alfalfa seeds in 2007, voided the deregulation of the seeds and blocked future sales until a U.S. environmental study was conducted. The case is now on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Shares in St. Louis-based Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, rose 25 cents to $72.08 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.
The case is Center for Food Safety v. Schafer, 3:08-cv- 00484, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
--Editors: Peter Blumberg, Charles Carter
To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at