USDA allows planting of GM beets despite court order
2.Reuters: USDA partially deregulating biotech sugar beets
EXTRACTS: U.S. agricultural regulators on Friday said despite a court ban, they would allow commercial planting of genetically modified sugar beets... The move marks the second-such boost by the United States for contested biotech crops in a week, and underscores U.S. determination to expand the use of GMO crops... (item 2)
1.Farmers And Conservationists Challenge Latest Federal Approval Of Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets
Center for Food Safety, February 4 2011
San Francisco, CA - In defiance of earlier court ruling, USDA allows continued growing of controversial, illegally planted crop
Today the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a new decision to allow the U.S. sugar beet industry to continue growing Monsanto's Roundup Ready, genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets. The decision will be immediately challenged in court by a coalition of farmers and conservation groups: the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club. This is the same coalition that in August of last year had APHIS’s previous decision to allow planting thrown out because it violated environmental laws. The coalition declared the new decision unlawful as well, and vowed to overturn it.
The sugar beets are genetically engineered by Monsanto to tolerate repeated applications of that company’s weed killer Roundup, or glyphosate. Judge Jeffrey White of the federal district court for the Northern District of California found in earlier rulings that growing the GE sugar beets is likely to cause irreparable harm to the groups’ members and the environment, and "may cross-pollinate with non-genetically engineered sugar beets and related Swiss chard and table beets," and ordered the federal government to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as required by the National Environmental Policy Act before allowing the GE sugar beets to be grown. The USDA is continuing to work on the court-ordered EIS, but considers today's documents sufficient to allow growers to continue growing the controversial crop illegally planted in defiance of the earlier court ruling.
"There is clear evidence of harm to the environment from GE sugar beets," said Paige Tomaselli, Staff Attorney for the Center for Food Safety. “Because USDA continues to bow to industry pressure and permits further commercial production of Roundup Ready sugar beets, without first preparing an EIS or protecting the public, the Center for Food Safety will once again seek to halt the planting in court."
In spite of that court order, the federal agency today issued a far less comprehensive Environmental Assessment, claiming it adequately considers the damage the GE sugar beets are likely to cause. According to APHIS, Roundup Ready sugar beets can be partially deregulated without having a significant effect on the environment. This conclusion is at sharp odds with earlier court rulings and the views of growers of organic and non-GE crops, who will likely see their crops contaminated by the GE sugar beets, threatening their livelihoods and the ability of farmers and consumers to choose non-GE foods.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff commented: "The lax conditions on growing the GE sugar beets in today's approval are not materially different from those earlier rejected by the federal court as inadequate to protect other farmers, the public, and the environment. USDA has yet again violated the law requiring preparation of an EIS before unleashing this genetically engineered crop."
Monsanto created Roundup Ready crops to withstand its Roundup herbicide (with the active ingredient glyphosate). The introduction of previous Roundup Ready crops over the last decade, such as soy, cotton, and corn, have led to a 382 million pound overall increase in herbicides. It has also led to the spread of herbicide resistant weeds on millions of acres throughout the United States and other countries where such crops are grown, as well as contamination of conventional and organic crops, which has been costly to U.S. farmers.
In 2008, the groups sued USDA for deregulating Monsanto’s genetically modified sugar beets without complying with the National Environmental Policy Act's requirement of an EIS before deregulating the crop. On August 13, 2010, the federal court banned the crop until USDA fully analyzed the impacts of the GE plant on the environment, farmers and the public in an EIS.
Three weeks later, despite the court's ruling, and without any prior environmental analysis, USDA issued permits to seed growers to again grow the genetically modified sugar beets. The groups again sued USDA. On November 30 2010, the court granted the groups' motion for a preliminary injunction and ordered the seed crop destroyed. That order was stayed pending appeal, which is scheduled for argument on February 15, 2011.
Contacts: Paige Tomaselli, Center for Food Safety, 415-826-2779
Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice, 808-599-2436 x612
The Center for Food Safety is a national, non-profit, membership organization founded in 1997 to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. CFS currently represents over 180,000 members across the nation.
Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.
« Support CFS's Legal Fund and Help Stop the Planting of GE Alfalfa!
2.USDA partially deregulating biotech sugar beets
Carey Gillam and Chuck Abbott
Reuters, Feb 4 2011
KANSAS CITY/WASHINGTON - U.S. agricultural regulators on Friday said despite a court ban, they would allow commercial planting of genetically modified sugar beets under closely controlled conditions while they complete a full environmental impact statement.
The move marks the second-such boost by the United States for contested biotech crops in a week, and underscores U.S. determination to expand the use of GMO crops amid rising global fears over food security and surging prices.
After approving genetically altered alfalfa last week in the face of bitter protest and after court rulings against an earlier sugar beet approval, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would allow Monsanto Co's "Roundup Ready" sugar beets back in the fields this spring.
Beet planting will be done under closely controlled conditions to prevent any potential plant pest risks, according to USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
"After conducting an environmental assessment, accepting and reviewing public comments and conducting a plant pest risk assessment, APHIS has determined that the Roundup Ready sugar beet root crop, when grown under APHIS imposed conditions, can be partially deregulated without posing a plant pest risk or having a significant effect on the environment," said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS' biotechnology regulatory services.
Gregoire said the partial deregulation was an interim measure until APHIS completes a full environmental impact statement.
Monsanto's biotech beets, engineered to tolerate the company's Roundup herbicide and make weed management easier for growers, make up 95 percent of the U.S. sugar beet crop and are needed to avoid a steep drop in U.S. sugar production, officials have said.
The government has estimated that if growers have to rely on a limited supply of conventional sugar beet seeds, U.S. sugar production could drop by more than 1.6 million tons, or about 21 percent. Sugar beets account for more than half of the nation's sugar supply.
"This technology has produced record harvests in recent years and increased farmer profitability while minimizing on-farm labor and environmental impact," said Jim Greenwood, chief executive officer of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).
"We remain hopeful that this action, along with the decision made last week on Roundup Ready alfalfa, will pave the way for new technologies in the pipeline," Greenwood said.
Opponents to the biotech beets said the USDA action circumvents court orders, and they said they would take USDA back to court.
" USDA has yet again violated the law requiring preparation of an EIS (environmental impact statement) before unleashing this genetically engineered crop," said Paul Achitoff, an attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm.
Along with the Center for Food Safety, Earthjustice sued USDA in 2008 for approving the biotech beets without conducting a full environmental impact assessment as required by law. They argued that widespread use of the crop leads to increased use of herbicides, proliferation of herbicide resistant weeds, and contamination of conventional and organic crops.
In August, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled in their favor, finding USDA's 2005 approval of the beets was illegal, and banning the crop until the USDA prepared an EIS. He also ordered that beet seedlings currently in the ground be removed.
The USDA has appealed the order to remove already planted seedlings and a hearing is slated for February 15. The department has said a full environmental impact study will take until May 2012, and it does not want to wait that long to allow planting.
Under the partial deregulation announced Friday, growers of the Roundup Ready sugar beet rootcrop will be required to enter into a compliance agreement that outlines mandatory requirements for how the crop can be grown. APHIS expects that sugar beet cooperatives and processors will be the only entities that will enter into compliance agreements on behalf of their respective members/farmers.
APHIS said it will regulate the seed crop through its permitting process.
The beet decision could set a precedent for how the USDA treats some of the two dozen other GMO crops under review for approval, according to an official with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"That is an important change in the way the agency has regulated genetically engineered crops," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior UCS scientist.
Center for Food Safety attorney Paige Tomaselli said the measures were inadequate.
"The measures provided in the decision will not protect farmers and will not protect public health and the environment," she said. "Because USDA continues to bow to industry pressure and permits further commercial production of Roundup Ready sugar beets, without first preparing an EIS or protecting the public, the Center for Food Safety will once again seek to halt the planting in court."
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Chuck Abbott in Washington; additional reporting by Christopher Doering in Washington; editing by Marguerita Choy)