Federal judge orders destruction of illegal GM sugar beets

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gm sugar beets, Sugar beet, Law, Usda

A federal court judge has ordered the destruction of genetically modified (GM) sugar beets planted in September, saying that they were planted in contravention of a previous court decision.

US District Court Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco found that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had illegally allowed the planting of sugar beets genetically modified to resist Roundup Ready herbicide, despite an earlier court decision requiring the government agency to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prior to planting. The order to destroy the beets will come into effect on December 6 to allow time for appeal.

Judge White said in the court order: “The legality of Defendants’ conduct does not even appear to be a close question. It appears clear that Defendants and Intervenor-Defendants were merely seeking to avoid the impact of the Court’s prior order.”

The lawsuit was filed in September by environmental groups alleging the USDA's action violated an earlier decision by Judge White.

In response to the court’s decision, lead counsel for the plaintiffs Paul Achitoff of Earthjustice said: “USDA has shown no regard for the environmental laws, and we’re pleased that Judge White ordered the appropriate response.”

Monsanto is currently the only supplier of GM sugar beets.

Plaintiff Center for Food Safety’s Senior Staff Attorney George Kimbrell 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.”

Sugar supply disruption?

According an earlier ruling by Judge White in August, this year’s beets will still be allowed to be harvested and processed as usual, but sugar farmers have warned that US sugar supply could be disrupted from 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.

Judge White also ruled in August that the planting of GM sugar beets should be halted until the USDA put together an EIS, expected to be completed by the end of May 2012. However, the USDA said that it would allow limited planting of the sugar beets while the EIS was prepared and issued permits to four companies, which had already planted seedlings to produce seed for the 2012 crop – a move that the court ruled in October was illegal.

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