Biotech critics have asked a federal appeals court to resurrect a lawsuit challenging USDA permits that allowed cultivation of transgenic sugar beet seedlings.
The agency issued the permits allowing limited cultivation in 2010 after a federal judge overturned the crop's full deregulation.
The Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit group critical of genetically engineered crops, claimed the USDA violated environmental law by issuing the permits without an environmental analysis.
Legal wrangling ensued, but the lawsuit was ultimately declared moot when the USDA partially deregulated genetically engineered sugar beets in 2011. The crop was again fully commercialized this year.
Though the permits for "stecklings" have long expired and the plants have been harvested, the Center for Food Safety says it should be able to continue challenging the agency's actions because they could be repeated.
"This was a facade designed by the defendants to avoid (legal) review," said Paul Achitoff, attorney for the group, during recent oral arguments before the 9th Circuit.
Matthew Littleton, an attorney representing USDA, said the case is moot because the agency has conducted the environmental reviews sought by the non-profit group.
There aren't any remedies available to the court, since the stecklings are no longer in the ground, he said.
For the Center for Food Safety to continue litigating the issue, it must file a lawsuit challenging the full deregulation, Littleton said.
-- Mateusz Perkowski