Growers fight bio-beet restrictions
Industry welcomes partial deregulation, rejects reporting rule
By DAVE WILKINS
Sugar beet growers were quick to react after the USDA on Feb. 4 announced a final decision to allow Roundup Ready plantings this year.
First they cheered. Then they filed a lawsuit that seeks to lift some of the mandatory conditions that growers must meet.
Certain conditions imposed by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are too costly, burdensome and unnecessary, according to the suit filed Feb. 7 in federal district court in the District of Columbia.
The conditions include geographic restrictions on planting, surveillance and monitoring requirements, equipment handling procedures, personnel training, reporting and movement and handling standards.
"While many of these conditions are sensible and appropriate interim measures, certain of the conditions are unnecessary and not in accordance with law," the lawsuit asserts.
The lawsuit was filed by sugar beet cooperatives, individual leaders of the co-ops, processors, seed companies and the American Sugar Beet Growers Association.
APHIS, the Center for Food Safety and the Sierra Club are named as defendants.
It was a lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety that led to a federal court decision in September 2009 that APHIS had improperly deregulated Roundup Ready sugar beets without first conducting a full environmental impact statement.
In their lawsuit, growers seek a court order that the challenged conditions are unnecessary to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and are "significantly burdensome for sugar beet growers and processors and seed producers and unjustified under APHIS' Plant Protection Act."
The lawsuit seeks "in the alternative" a declaratory judgment that APHIS' actions fulfill the requirements of federal law.
Growers object to APHIS requirements that they must monitor their fields for "bolters," and notify APHIS of any finds within 48 hours. They're also challenging a requirement that they report where "bolters are not observed."
Duane Grant, chairman of the Snake River Sugar Co. said the lawsuit is not an indication that growers are dissatisfied with APHIS or the work that it has done.
The suit is intended primarily to prevent the Center for Food Safety from blocking the planting of Roundup Ready beets, he said.
"What we are concerned about is that the Center for Food Safety has a long track record of litigious action that could block the planting of Roundup Ready seed at a later date," he said.
About 300 growers were attending the annual meeting of the American Sugar Beet Growers Association in Tucson when APHIS announced its decision.
The mood at the meeting was upbeat, but cautious, Grant said.
"Across the U.S., growers are relieved and optimistic that they will be able to plant RR for 2011," he said.
But most growers also believe that the Center for Food Safety will stop at nothing short of an outright ban on Roundup Ready beets, Grant said.
"Growers recognize that the battle isn't over," he said.