Wanting readers to think beyond the Feb. 25 decision by his three-member Ninth Circuit Court panel, calling off the destruction of genetically modified sugar beets, Judge Sidney R. Thomas opted to give them an amusing moment.

“As we have noted,” wrote Judge Thomas, “this appeal presents a thin slice of a larger litigation. Perhaps, in the end, the entire controversy will be resolved, and we can say that ‘fair discourse hath been as sugar, [m]aking the hard way sweet and delectable.'”

Thomas gave the appropriate footnote to William Shakespeare, Richard II, act 2, se. 3, before adding: “Needless to say, given the course of the litigation, that is unlikely.”

Thomas is the San Francisco appeals court judge interviewed by President Obama and Vice President Biden last year for possible nomination to the Supreme Court.

In latest sugar beets the ruling, he said the plaintiffs failed to show the likelihood of irreparable injury from the August 2010 plantings of Roundup Ready juvenile sugar beet stecklings in select, remote areas. “Biology, geography, field experience, and permit restrictions make irreparable injury unlikely,” Thomas wrote.

“Thus, without expressing any views on the merits of the ultimate issues in this case or other pending related litigation, we vacate the preliminary injunction, reverse, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, ” he concluded.

In reversing the decision of District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White, Thomas not only spared stecklings already in the ground in Arizona and Oregon, he demonstrated his considerable knowledge of sugar beet history and genetics along the way.

Here’s some of what he wrote:

“The sugar beet is a biennial crop which develops a sugar-rich tap root in the first year (the vegetative stage) and a flowering seed stalk in the second year (the reproductive stage). Early in its development, it is known as a “steckling,” i.e. a small, juvenile seedling that has grown neither a root nor seeds. When the beet matures, its root is harvested and processed into sugar; the pulp is used for food. Sugar beets grown for their root crop are grown only through the vegetative stage, maximizing their sugar content.

“If allowed to reach the reproductive stage, a sugar beet uses the stored sugar to grow a seed stalk, a process known as “bolting.” Sugar beets are largely wind pollinated, though their pollen may also be dispersed by insects, and they are sexually compatible with certain other beet (beta vulgaris) crops, such as table beets and Swiss chard.

“Weeds significantly reduce sugar beet yields and constitute a serious problem for farmers. Farmers often use herbicides, including “Roundup” products, to stop weeds from germinating.

“In 1988, Monsanto and KWS SAAT AG (“KWS”), the parent company of Betaseed, developed Roundup Ready sugar beets, which are genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate, the active ingredient in “Roundup” herbicides. Monsanto owns the intellectual property in the gene for glyphosate tolerance; KWS inserted that gene into sugar beets. Together, they developed a particular variety of Roundup Ready sugar beet, called “event H7-1,” by transforming a KWS proprietary line of sugar beets. 

“With the Roundup Ready sugar beet’s glyphosate-tolerant trait, farmers can treat their fields with Roundup products to eliminate weeds without harming the (resistant) sugar beets. 

“The sugar produced from Roundup Ready sugar beets is identical to sugar processed from conventional sugar beets, and has been approved for food safety in the United States and the European Union.”

Roundup Ready sugar beets captured about 95 percent of the market before being challenged by anti-GM crop interests in the courts. These include the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Organic Seeds.

Monsanto Company, American Crystal Sugar Company, Syngenta Seeds Inc., and Betaseed Inc. were intervenors on behalf of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Judge Thomas was appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton in 1996. He previously practiced law in Billings, MT.