US court over turns GMO sugar beet approval

Planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beet could be banned in the USA following a court decision ruling the US Department of Agriculture violated environmental law in approving the crop.

Californian district judge Jeffrey White said the USDA failed to take a “hard look” at whether the genetically modified beet would eventually share their genes with other sugar beet crops, or related crops of Swiss Chard and red table beet.

Noting pollen could be blown long distances to related crops, the judge ordered the agency to produce an environmental impact statement.

A lesser environmental assessment was made prior to approval, which suggested if pollen spread the herbicide-tolerant genes to wild beet it was of little concern as they were considered a weed.

No decision has yet been made whether US growers will be allowed to plant GM beet next year following the ruling, but the organic growers, food safety advocates and conservation groups that brought the case have said they will press for a ban on planting until the re-examination was done, when the case goes back to court in late October.

The ruling is not without precedent. Two years ago a different judge in the same court ruled farmers could no longer plant genetically modified alfalfa until the USDA wrote an environmental impact assessment for the crop.

“We expect the same result here as we got in alfalfa,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, a Washington advocacy group that was also involved in the alfalfa case, is reported as saying in the New York Times. “It will halt almost any further planting and sale because it’s no longer an approved crop.”

Sugar beet growers, Monsanto and sugar processors are expected in October to defend the use of the technology, which last year accounted for 90% of the sugar beet crop in the USA.

“We’re going to use that opportunity to advocate the need for that technology and vigorously defend our growers’ freedom to plant Roundup Ready sugar beet,” Luthar Markwart of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association said.

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