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Court Rules Against Temporary Ban on GE Sugar Beets

(Beyond Pesticides, March 19, 2010) Federal district Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California denied a preliminary injunction on genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets and sugar beet seeds. However, Judge White did indicate that a permanent ban may be forthcoming saying that the parties should not “assume that the Court’s decision to deny a preliminary injunction is indicative of its views on a permanent injunction” pending an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDS) Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). In the mean time, he urged the Intervenor-Defendants to “take all efforts going forward to use conventional (non GE) seed.” Judge White will begin hearing motions on a permanent ban of GE sugar beets in May with the next court date scheduled for July.

“Based on today’s ruling, we are encouraged that Judge White will order permanent injunction relief,” said Paul Achitoff, attorney for Earth Justice in a release by Center for Food Safety (CFS). “We will ask the Court to halt the use of genetically engineered sugar beets and seeds until the federal government does its job to protect consumers and farmers alike.”

The Plaintiffs, CFS, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Seeds represented by Earth Justice and CFS filed suit against APHIS in January of 2008, on grounds that it violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it failed to adequately assess the environmental, health, and associated economic impacts of allowing “Roundup Ready” sugar beets to be commercially grown without restriction. In September of 2009 the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and ordered APHIS to prepare an EIS.

According to a New York Times article, the Court declined to impose an immediate ban on GE sugar beets because the seeds have already become so entrenched that there is not enough conventional (non GE) seed available for a full crop this year. Organic farmers are concerned about cross pollination between GE and organic crops. Roundup Ready sugar beets are planted for seed in Willamette Valley Oregon. Willamette Valley is also a major producer of organic Swiss chard, table beets and other sexually compatible seed crops. “Organic chard and beets as we know them are at serious risk of being lost” according to Frank Morton, an organic grower of chard and table beet seed.

About half of the country’s sugar is supplied by beets and about 95% of the US crop is genetically engineered, according to Monsanto. The GE beets were developed by the company to be glyphosate resistant or “Roundup Ready.” Monsanto said in a press release that they look forward to demonstrating that a broad permanent injunction is not appropriate, saying that, “Alternative [non-GE] technologies require more applications of pesticides, with greater impacts on the environment and lower productivity on farms.” The release, however, did not provide any data to support these claims.

Furthermore, independent analysis of USDA data by Dr. Charles Benbrook, former Board of Agriculture Director of the National Academy of Sciences, showed a 15 fold increase in herbicide use in the US from 1994 (when GE herbicide-resistant crops were introduced) to 2004. The use of glyphosate on all of the Round-Up Ready crops available has lead to increasing cases of glyphosate resistant weeds. Genetic engineering has also failed to increase US crop yields according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Beyond Pesticides opposes the use of GE crops and supports organic agriculture as effecting good land stewardship and a reduction in hazardous chemical exposures for workers on the farm. For other studies and more information, see Beyond Pesticides’ GE Program and Organic Program pages.


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