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Court sides with USDA, Monsanto over cultivation of genetically modified sugar beet seeds

February 25, 2011 |  3:48 pm

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court’s ruling to destroy the young plants currently being grown to produce genetically modified sugar beet seeds with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genes.

In a 21-page opinion -– in which Judge Sidney R. Thomas tapped his inner literati and waxed on with references to author Michael Crichton, William Shakespeare’s “Richard II” and Olivier de Serres, the father of French agriculture -– the court essentially opened the door for the seeds to be grown and available for the coming 2012 sugar beet planting season.

Whether these seeds will ever be planted in the dirt, however, is still unclear.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco dismissed a request for an injunction that would have barred the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan to let the beets be cultivated this year. And last summer White revoked the USDA’s deregulation of these genetically modified, or GM, sugar beets, saying the agency had to first complete a more thorough environmental impact study.

White, however, allowed the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to figure out how to regulate the crop until the report was complete. The agency issued out some permits that allowed some growing of the GM sugar beet stecklings, or the rootstock needed to produce seeds.

That prompted the plaintiffs in the case -– including the Center for Food Safety and the Sierra Club -– to file another lawsuit, arguing that the USDA's action violated the National Environmental Policy Act and requesting that the stecklings be destroyed.

White sided with the plaintiffs and, in December, ordered the young plants –- which are poised to produce the majority of the sugar beet seeds needed to fill domestic orders –- be destroyed.

But the 9th Circuit disagreed. On Friday, the court overturned that order, finding that the growing permits issued by the USDA should be given “full force and effect.” The court also found that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that the stecklings would cause irreparable harm.

Citing the book “Jurassic Park,” Thomas wrote, “The alleged irreparable harms are little more than an expression that 'life finds a way' .... However, an invocation to chaos theory is not sufficient to justify a preliminary injunction.”

-- P.J. Huffstutter

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