GM sugar beet destruction on hold – again

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sugar beet

A San Francisco appeals court has put on hold until February 28 a previous court order to destroy genetically modified (GM) sugar beets being grown to provide seed for the 2012 crop.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in court papers that the crops, planted on 256 acres, will not flower before the permits expire in February, so there is no risk of cross-contamination with non-GM plants.

At the end of November, district court Judge Jeffrey White ordered destruction of the sugar beet seedlings, known as stecklings, to begin from December 6. A decision on whether to carry out that order was pushed back to December 23 following an appeal by Monsanto, currently the only supplier of the GM sugar beets, modified for resistance to the company’s Roundup-brand herbicide.

The latest decision, from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, means that the crops cannot be uprooted before the end of February unless the court issues an order to do so.

The stecklings had been planted despite an earlier ruling prohibiting the further planting of any GM sugar beet seeds pending completion of an Environmental Impact Statement by the USDA, a process expected to take two years. The crop had been deregulated under the Bush Administration, but this was overturned after environmental groups challenged the decision in court.

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.

Sugar beet growers have expressed concern that unless an agreement is reached, there could be an inadequate supply of conventional seed to ensure a reliable US sugar supply in 2011.

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