Up until now, court challenges to genetically engineered crops have mostly been about process and procedure, not the merits of the brave new GM world.

But a decision last week out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is going to change all that, according to attorney George Kimbrell from the Center for Food Safety.  He says the court order “cements a critical legal benchmark in the battle for meaningful oversight of biotech crops and food.”  

“Because of this case,” Kimbrell said, “there will be public disclosure and debate on the harmful impacts of these pesticide-promoting crops, as well as legal protections for farmers threatened by contamination.”

Tom Helscher, Monsanto’s spokesman, says there is less to the decision than the opponents claim.  “As a result of subsequent court decisions and USDA actions, continuation of the appeals had little consequence for Roundup Ready sugar beet growers or seed companies,” he said.  “The (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has issued interim measures to allow the planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets and farmers are planting their Roundup Ready sugar beet crops.” 

The Ninth Circuit’s summary order directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct a “rigorous review” of the impacts of GE sugar beets engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

USDA approved the use of so-called Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2008, and their share of the market quickly grew to as much as 95 percent. Opponents, led by the Center for Food Safety, initially challenged the USDA action in federal district court in San Francisco.

They feared the Roundup Ready sugar beets will contaminate organic and other crops that are not genetically engineered, including table beets and chard.

District Judge Jeffrey S. White agreed, and ordered USDA to write a full blown Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  By last August, Judge White had not only stuck with his EIS order, but also rejected USDA’s “partial deregulation” of GE sugar beets base on an environmental assessment, and halted plantings.

It was Monsanto that appealed White’s decisions to the Ninth Circuit, and that’s been dismissed.

USDA plans on finishing the EIS on GE sugar beets in 2012, at which time it will be able to make a new decision on commercialization. 

 Vilsack has taken a “why can’t we all get along” approach with interim measures, hoping to

deal with both the pro- and anti-GMO camps.

USDA limited GM sugar beet plantings to exclude environmental hotspots like the entire state of California and western counties in Washington state.  While those measures were not welcomed by Judge White, they might be how USDA may keep warring camps apart in the future.

  • dangermaus

    I often hear the claim that Monsanto sues (or threatens to sue) farmers who grow crops that contain genes they hold patents on, even if the genes drifted in, unintentionally from pollen from a nearby field. It would seem to me that the liability should go in the other direction – that Monsanto had caused harm to the neighboring farmer by “contaminating” his non-GMO crops.

  • Pete

    Don’t look now but all of the US sugar beets have been planted this spring and they are all Roundup Ready. CFS has once again mischaracterized this issue. Also, think about it. If a company really did sue it’s customers regularly, would that be a good business model? If that were really the case, why would 90% of the cotton, 95% of the soybean, 85% of the corn, and97% of the Sugarbeet growers in the US using biotech crops. It might make one question some of the blogosphere.

  • jijiN

    Hey Pete do you receive any compensation from Monsanto or are you just falling for their line of pap? They sue or threaten to sue anyone they think stands in the way of their world domination. Next thing you will know they will get legislation passed making it illegal for people to store heritage seeds. I bet they have thought about it.

  • danny

    I highly doubt Pete dose. I am a beet grower and I can assure you that Round Up Ready Modified crops are waaaaay safer than the cocktail of chemicals we used to use. I feel that people shouldn’t complain until they have worked on a farm and seen how it really is. As for Round Up being dangerous it’s not you can drink a glass of it.

    • StreetJustice

      Data from the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Pesticide Illness Surveillance Program, which also tracks other agricultural chemicals, shows that glyphosate-related incidents are some of the most common. However, incident counts alone do not take into account the number of people exposed and the severity of symptoms associated with each incident. For example, if hospitalization were used as a measure of the severity of incidents, then glyphosate would be considered relatively safe; over a 13-year period in California, none of the 515 reported hospitalizations were attributed to glyphosate.

      Deliberate ingestion of Roundup in quantities ranging from 85 to 200 ml has resulted in death within hours of ingestion, although it has also been ingested in quantities as large as 500 ml with only mild or moderate symptoms. There is a reasonable correlation between the amount of Roundup ingested and the likelihood of serious systemic sequelae or death. Ingestion of >85 ml of the concentrated formulation is likely to cause significant toxicity in adults. Corrosive effects – mouth, throat and epigastric pain and dysphagia – are common. Renal and hepatic impairment are also frequent and usually reflect reduced organ perfusion. Respiratory distress, impaired consciousness, pulmonary edema, infiltration on chest x-ray, shock, arrythmias, renal failure requiring haemodialysis, metabolic acidosis, and hyperkalaemia may occur in severe cases. Bradycardia and ventricular arrhythmias often present prior to death.

      Dermal exposure to ready-to-use glyphosate formulations can cause irritation, and photo-contact dermatitis has been occasionally reported. These effects are probably due to the preservative Proxel (benzisothiazolin-3-one). Inhalation is a minor route of exposure, but spray mist may cause oral or nasal discomfort, an unpleasant taste in the mouth, or tingling and irritation in the throat. Eye exposure may lead to mild conjunctivitis. Superficial corneal injury is possible if irrigation is delayed or inadequate.