By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Dec. 2 – Monsanto Company announced Wednesday that it will appeal Tuesday's ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco which would impact limited late-season and isolated planting of sugar beet seedlings, or stecklings. The planting was authorized in September under permits issued by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

In his 15-page order, Judge White ruled that “the stecklings planted pursuant to the permits issued by Defendants shall be removed from the ground.” The order finds that:

Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of harm stemming from the plantings pursuant to the permits at issue. The evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing made clear that, even with the existence of protocols designed to minimize any environmental harm, there is a significant risk that the plantings pursuant to the permits will cause environmental harm. Despite efforts by Defendants to implement effective protocols and efforts by Intervenor-Defendants to minimize any contamination or cross-pollination, there are examples of where such efforts were ineffective, either because the conditions were later determined to be insufficient or the conditions were not followed. In other instances, the causes of the contamination were never discovered. These incidents are too numerous for this Court to declare confidently that these permits provide sufficient containment to protect the environment.”

Rebuking both USDA and Monsanto, White wrote that “Defendants and Intervenor-Defendants created this problem. . . . Defendants rushed to grant permits, and Intervenor-Defendants rushed to plant stecklings pursuant to these permits. These permits have gone far beyond the scope of what has been done before – granting permits for commercially grown genetically engineered crops. Despite the fact that the permits themselves state that their purpose was '[t]o produce stecklings (seed vernalization) for transplant into basic seed (commercial) production trials in 2010-2011,' Defendants took the position before this Court that they did not unlawfully segment this portion of the genetically sugar beet production cycle.”

White concluded that “the legality of Defendants’ conduct does not even appear to be a close question. It appears clear that Defendants and Intervernor-Defendants were merely seeking to avoid the impact of the Court’s prior order in Sugar Beets I.”

Commenting on the court order, Monsanto pointed out that “The Court’s ruling does not affect the 2010 Roundup Ready sugar beet seed crop which had been planted earlier in the year prior to the September permits. Moreover, the decision will have little impact on the sugar beet crop that farmers anticipate planting in 2011. Stecklings produced in 2010 would supply seed for root crop growers in the 2012 season.”

In wording just as tough as the judge's rebukes, Monsanto General Counsel David Snively commented that “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. We intend to seek an immediate stay of this ruling and appeal to the Court of Appeals.” Monsanto maintains that “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 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.” Directly challenging the judge's findings, Monsanto points out that “Roundup Ready sugar beets have been planted in North America for the past four years. After careful review, USDA issued permits for this additional seed production in accordance with the June, 2010 Supreme Court ruling that clearly authorizes such actions. 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. In North America, roughly 95 percent of the 2010 sugar beet acreage was safely planted with Roundup Ready varieties. Sugar beet growers have confirmed that Roundup Ready sugar beets reduce impacts on the environment and make their operations more efficient and productive. Alternative technologies require more applications of pesticides, with greater impacts on the environment and lower productivity on farms.”

Welcoming the latest court ruling, Plaintiff Center for Food Safety’s Senior Staff Attorney George Kimbrell said, “Today’s decision is a seminal victory for farmers and the environment and a vindication of the rule of law. The public interest has prevailed over USDA’s repeated efforts to implement the unlawful demands of the biotech industry.”

Paul Achitoff of Earthjustice, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said, “USDA thumbed its nose at the judicial system and the public by allowing this crop to be grown without any environmental review. Herbicide resistant crops just like this have been shown to result in more toxic chemicals in our soil and water. USDA has shown no regard for the environmental laws, and we’re pleased that Judge White ordered the appropriate response.”

Previously, the court ruled that USDA had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by allowing the crop to be commercialized without first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In August the court made any future planting and sale unlawful until USDA complies with federal law. USDA has said it expects to complete an EIS in spring 2012. Yet after the ruling, USDA issued permits allowing companies to plant seedlings to produce seed for future Roundup Ready sugar beet crops, even though the crops are still illegal to grow, and no EIS has been prepared. The seed growers then planted the seed crop in Oregon and Arizona.

To read the judge's 15-page Nov. 30 order on GM sugar beets, go to:

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