When things get confusing, lawyers do what lawyers do–go back to court for directions more to their liking.
And that’s exactly what has happened when it comes to genetically modified sugar beets.
The original opponents to Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM sugar beets–the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club– went back to the Northern District of California in San Francisco last week, objecting to what they saw as permission for immediate planting of GM sugar beets by USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS).
The seed-grower and environmental groups on Aug. 13 won a ruling from U.S District Court Judge Jeffrey White that ordered APHIS to begin regulating GM sugar beets for the first time in five years. Included in the order is the judge’s insistence that APHIS conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on GM sugar beets.
But Judge White was also critical of APHIS for not already acting “expediently” to take “interim measures” to regulate GM sugar until the EIS is completed in about 2 years.
APHIS announced steps it was taking on Sept. 2 that might lead to permission to again plant GM sugar beets, which about 95 percent of U.S. growers now prefer.
“The Court has already found that the approval of this engineered crop was illegal,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “Rather than complying with the court’s order, the USDA is once again acting as a rogue agency in illegally allowing these crops to be planted without the required hard look at their environmental and economic dangers.”
The sugar beet seed crop will be grown in and around Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where farmers also grow seed for other crops.
Judge White had found that the GE sugar beets, which can cross-pollinate table beets and Swiss chard, may contaminate organic and conventional crops and threaten these farmers’ livelihoods, and deprive farmers and consumers of the choice to grow and consume non-genetically engineered food.
Unwilling to await preparation of the court-ordered EIS and a new, public process on whether to again deregulate and allow for commercialization, APHIS responded to the urgings of the sugar beet industry by issuing permits purporting to allow the industry to plant its Roundup Ready sugar beet seed crop this fall, without any environmental review or public notice and comment, to create seed for a future Roundup Ready sugar beet crop that is still illegal.
Otherwise growers would be prohibited from using the popular GM sugar beets for one or more seasons.
The unprecedented permitting process for a commercially grown genetically engineered crop violates, among other laws, the National Environmental Policy Act. Although APHIS claims the permits do not allow the crop to flower and spread pollen, the seed crop is expressly intended to flower and create seed next summer. NEPA requires APHIS to first examine the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the seed crop together with the impacts of the rest of the sugar beet production cycle the seed crop is intended to facilitate.
The plaintiffs have asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction enjoining the issuance of the permits and any planting pursuant to them.
One attorney for the GM sugar opponents went so far as to suggest that APHIS had become “Monsanto’s puppet.”