Anticipated decision on Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beets delayed
By WES SANDER
A federal judge has delayed a hearing on whether genetically engineered sugar beets can be produced in the next few years as the USDA completes a detailed study of the crop's environmental impacts.
Litigants were scheduled to argue on July 9 in Judge Jeffrey White's San Francisco courtroom on whether seed developer Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beets should be prohibited from commercial production while USDA produces an environmental document to support its deregulation of the seeds.
On June 22, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an injunction that had banned production of Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa, White ordered the hearing pushed back to Aug. 13.
White ordered the plaintiffs to file briefs by July 6 examining the alfalfa decision's impacts to the case. Defendants' responses must be filed by July 15.
In January 2008 the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club and High Mowing Organic Seeds filed a lawsuit against the USDA, alleging the government had improperly deregulated the crop.
White ruled that the plaintiffs had successfully argued that the seeds pose a significant danger of contaminating nearby crops, and ordered USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to produce an environmental impact statement to satisfy federal environmental rules.
But in March he denied the plaintiffs' motion to immediately ban the seeds, allowing growers to continue planting for the year.
"If this court were to ban the planting and processing of the genetically engineered sugar beet root crop, there would not be enough conventional seed for a full crop this year," White wrote. "The economic impact of such a shortage would be dramatic and wide-spread."
Monsanto engineers the seeds to resist glyphosate, the active ingredient in the company's Roundup weed killer. An estimated 95 percent of the industry now uses the seeds, nearly all of which are grown in Oregon's Willamette Valley. They are planted in Idaho, California and several states in the West and Midwest.
Sugar beets account for about 50 percent of the domestic sugar supply.