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Judge rules against Monsanto’s GM sugar beets

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 23-Sep-2009

A federal judge ruled on Monday that the USDA failed to adequately assess the environmental impact of Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) sugar beets before introducing them into the food supply.

While the judge has ordered that the USDA conduct a thorough assessment of the environmental and economic risks, the decision could lead to a ban on the sugar beets, which have been widely adopted across the US. However, more than 100 food companies have signed a non-GM beet sugar registry, set up by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and others in February, pledging not to knowingly use GM sugar in their products.

Judge Jeffrey White, of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, said that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets have not been properly assessed and require an Environmental Impact Statement, overturning 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.

The CFS has expressed concern that GM beet pollen could contaminate non-GM and organic crops because sugarbeets are wind pollinated.

Legal remedies are due to be discussed in a meeting with the concerned parties in October.

Executive director of the Center for Food Safety Andrew Kimbrell said: “This court decision is a wakeup call for the Obama USDA that they will not be allowed to ignore the biological pollution and economic impacts of gene altered crops. The Courts have made it clear that USDA’s job is to protect America’s farmers and consumers, not the interests of Monsanto.”

No one from Monsanto was available for comment prior to publication.

The first crop of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugarbeets, genetically engineered to be resistant to the company’s Roundup-brand herbicide, was harvested last fall following approval from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

But the plaintiffs had argued that Monsanto, currently the sole supplier of GM sugarbeets, should be required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement before its GM beets are allowed to be grown without restriction.

The USDA chose not to change the laws on GM sugar beets in March, disappointing those who had filed a lawsuit hoping to overturn the Bush Administration’s decision in light of the new administration.

The lawsuit was brought against the USDA by The Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice on behalf of a number of farmer and consumer groups in January 2008.

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