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Court dismisses biobeet appeal at backers' request

Published on May 26, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on June 23, 2011 7:18AM

Monsanto, other companies dismiss appeal while another lawsuit is pending


Capital Press

A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit over genetically engineered sugar beets because biotech developers and sugar companies no longer wanted to pursue the case.

In 2010, a federal judge entered a "vacatur" reversing the USDA's decision to fully deregulate sugar beets that were genetically modified to withstand glyphosate herbicides.

According to the judge, the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, by not taking a hard look at the potential for transgenic sugar beets to cross with similar crops.

Previously, the judge had excluded Monsanto, the crop's creator, as well as other biotech developers and sugar beet companies from voluntarily intervening in the lawsuit.

The judge cited a policy of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that prohibited private parties from intervening in lawsuits in which the federal government was accused of violating NEPA.

Private parties were only allowed to intervene in such cases after the "merits" had been decided, limiting their participation to the "remedies" phase of the litigation.

Monsanto and the other companies launched an appeal of this decision, saying it prevented them from making an important legal argument.

Biotech opponents had filed the lawsuit over transgenic sugar beets three years after the USDA had deregulated the crop in 2005. Monsanto wanted to argue that the lawsuit was time-barred due to the lateness of the filing, but was precluded from doing so.

The rationale for the appeal was that if Monsanto were allowed to make that argument, it could have been able to get the lawsuit dismissed as time-barred, thereby canceling the vacatur.

Last month, Monsanto and the other companies asked the 9th Circuit to dismiss their appeal, citing several changes that had taken place since it was launched:

* Earlier this year, the 9th Circuit overturned its policy of excluding private parties from intervening in the merits phase of NEPA cases against the federal government.

* The USDA has also decided to partially deregulate transgenic sugar beets, allowing farmers to grow them on a restricted basis, diminishing Monsanto's need to get the vacatur lifted.

* The 9th Circuit reversed a federal judge's order to destroy sugar beet stecklings, or seedlings, removing one of Monsanto's motivations for launching the appeal.

On May 20, the 9th Circuit approved the motion to dismiss the appeal.

However, another lawsuit over the USDA's partial deregulation of the crop is pending before a federal judge in Washington, D.C.


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