At the end of November, district court Judge Jeffrey White ordered destruction of sugar beet seedlings, known as stecklings, to begin from December 6. The stecklings had been planted in order to produce seed for the 2012 crop, despite an earlier ruling prohibiting the further planting of any GM sugar beet seeds pending completion of an Environmental Impact Statement by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), a process expected to take two years.
Following an appeal by Monsanto last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay blocking the crops’ destruction until 5 p.m. December 23. Meanwhile, the court will review briefs and may consider a longer stay. The reprieve also gives the USDA time to work on its plan to try and overturn the ruling.
The stay is the latest move in a long-running battle over the planting of GM sugar beets. In September, Judge Jeffrey White, of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, overturned a previous decision made by the Bush Administration to deregulate the crop. He said that the USDA should have assessed the impact the sugar beets could have on closely related crops such as red table beets and Swiss chard.
Sugar beet growers have warned that unless an agreement is reached, there could be an inadequate supply of conventional seed to ensure a reliable US sugar supply in 2011.
GM sugar beets account for 95 percent of those being grown in the US, according to USDA figures, with beet sugar providing about half of the total US sugar supply.
Currently, Monsanto is the only supplier of GM sugar beets.