The first possible destruction of a genetically modified crop in the United States is not going to happen without review by higher courts.
Monsanto Company said Wednesday it would appeal a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco to uproot limited late-season and isolated plantings of sugar beet seedlings, or stecklings, authorized in September under permits issued by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
It is possible the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), on behalf of APHIS, will join the Monsanto appeal.
According to Monsanto, Judge White’s order does not affect the 2010 Roundup Ready sugar beet seed crop, which had been planted earlier in the year, prior to the September permits.
It said the destruction order would have little impact on the sugar beet crop that farmers anticipate planting in 2011. Stecklings produced in 2010 supply seed for root crop growers in the 2012 season.
“With due respect, we believe the court’s action overlooked the factual evidence presented that no harm would be caused by these plantings, and is plainly inconsistent with the established law as recently announced by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said David Snively, general counsel for Monsanto, in a news release. “We intend to seek an immediate stay of this ruling and appeal to the Court of Appeals.”
Planting of the stecklings caused no harm to plaintiffs and APHIS’s granting of the permits was both a lawful and measured action supported by both past APHIS practice and established procedures, the company said.
“The issues that will be appealed are important to all U.S. farmers who choose to plant biotech crops,” Snively added. “We will spare no effort in challenging this ruling on the basis of flawed legal procedure and lack of consideration of important evidence.”
Roundup Ready sugar beets have been planted in North America for the past four years. Monsanto said USDA issued permits for this additional seed production in accordance with a June 2010 Supreme Court ruling that authorized such actions.
Monsanto claims the District Court’s decision would impose unnecessary costs on the seed producers when there has been no demonstrated harm to plaintiffs or risk to the environment associated with the seed production in the multiple years that the crop has been successfully planted and harvested.
More than 1 million acres of Roundup Ready sugar beet varieties have been planted in 10 U.S. states and in two Canadian provinces. Roughly 95 percent of the 2010 sugar beet acreage was, according to Monsanto, safely planted with Roundup Ready varieties.
Monsanto claims Roundup Ready sugar beets are popular with growers because they reduce impacts on the environment and make their operations more efficient and productive. The company says alternative technologies require more applications of pesticides, with greater impacts on the environment and lower productivity on farms.
Opponents of Roundup Ready crops say they have led to the spread of herbicide resistant weeds and cross-contamination of conventional and organic crops.
White, a federal judge in San Francisco, issued the destruct order on Tuesday, but delayed its effect date until Dec. 7 to give Monsanto and USDA time to appeal.
The judge agreed with the activist groups who brought the action that the plants will cause environmental harm. He said efforts to prevent cross-contamination and or other harm could not be guaranteed and GM plants could harm others.
Plaintiffs in the case are the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Sierra Club. They claim USDA has not shown proper adherence to environmental laws.
While Monsanto is having trouble with a court in San Francisco, multinational producers of genetically modified crops are getting support from a “higher authority.” Science advisors to the Pope have come out with a statement in favor of genetically modified crops as an effective method of helping feed the poor.
The market made Monsanto stock holders richer Wednesday with a gain of just over 3 percent.