A US court of appeals has said that Monsanto must produce further studies examining the environmental impact of its genetically modified (GM) sugar beets before they can be planted on a commercial scale.
The dismissal of Monsanto’s appeal from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has been welcomed by plaintiffs in the suit, who have hailed it as a benchmark case meaning the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will have to prepare a thorough review of its sugar beets, which have been engineered for resistance to Monsanto’s Roundup-brand insecticide, before they can re-enter commercial production. The USDA has said it expects to complete an Environmental Impact Statement by mid-2012.
Center for Food Safety (CFS) attorney George Kimbrell said in a statement that the order, passed on Friday, “cements a critical legal benchmark in the battle for meaningful oversight of biotech crops and food.”
He said: “Because of this case, there will be public disclosure and debate on the harmful impacts of these pesticide-promoting crops, as well as legal protections for farmers threatened by contamination.”
However, Monsanto said in an emailed statement that the dismissal would have little effect.
It said: “As a result of subsequent court decisions and USDA actions, continuation of the appeals had little consequence for Roundup Ready sugarbeet growers or seed companies. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has issued interim measures to allow the planting of Roundup Ready sugarbeets and farmers are planting their Roundup Ready sugarbeet crops.”
In August last year, US District Court Judge Jeffrey White ruled in favor of the coalition of environmental groups led by Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety – which are also the plaintiffs in this latest case – to block the further cultivation of GM sugar beets while an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared. The plaintiffs had expressed concern that GM beet pollen could contaminate non-GM and organic crops because sugar beets are wind pollinated.
During this case’s appeal the USDA allowed planting of GM sugar beets to continue on a partially regulated basis for the 2011-2012 season. That issue is the subject of separate litigation.
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.