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Sugarbeets: Federal Court Orders First-Ever Destruction of a GMO Crop

Federal Court Orders First-Ever Destruction of a GMO Crop
Orders Removal of Genetically Engineered Sugar Beet Seed Crop
Finds Government and Monsanto rushed to illegally plant herbicide resistant
For Immediate Release: November 30, 2010

Contact: Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice, 808-599-2436 (office);
808-262-8283 (cell)
George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety,
571-527-8618 (office); 360-718-8514 (cell)

Federal Court Orders First-Ever Destruction of a GMO Crop
Orders Removal of Genetically Engineered Sugar Beet Seed Crop
Finds Government and Monsanto rushed to illegally plant herbicide resistant

San Francisco, CA - Today Federal District Judge Jeffrey S. White issued a
preliminary injunction ordering the immediate destruction of hundreds of
acres of genetically engineered (GE) sugar beet seedlings planted in
September after finding the seedlings had been planted in violation of
federal law. The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice and Center
for Food Safety on behalf of a coalition of farmers, consumers, and
conservation groups. The lawsuit was filed on September 9, shortly after
the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed it had allowed the
seedlings to be planted.

The court outlined the many ways in which GE sugar beets could harm the
environment and consumers, noting that containment efforts were insufficient
and past contamination incidents were "too numerous" to allow the illegal
crop to remain in the ground. In his court order, Judge White noted,
"farmers and consumers would likely suffer harm from cross-contamination"
between GE sugar beets and non-GE crops. He continued, "the legality of
Defendants' conduct does not even appear to be a close question," noting
that the government and Monsanto tried to circumvent his prior ruling, which
made GE sugar beets illegal.

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."

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."

The plaintiffs—The Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High
Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club—had immediately sought a court
order to halt the planting. On September 28 Judge White ruled that USDA's
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) had violated the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by allowing the plantings without analyzing
the potential environmental, health, and socioeconomic impacts of growing GE
sugar beets. Judge White heard testimony from the parties during a
three-day hearing in November before issuing today's ruling.

Monsanto created "Roundup Ready" crops to withstand its Roundup herbicide
(with the active ingredient glyphosate), which it then sells to farmers
together with its patented seed, for which it charges farmers a substantial
"technology fee." Earlier this year, the Department of Justice announced it
had opened a formal investigation into possible anticompetitive practices in
Monsanto's use of such patented crops. Growing previous Roundup Ready crops
such as soy, cotton, and corn have led to greater use of herbicides. It
also has led to the spread of herbicide resistant weeds on millions of acres
throughout the United States and other countries where such crops are grown,
and contamination of conventional and organic crops, which has been costly
to U.S. farmers. There is also evidence that such herbicide-resistant crops
may be more susceptible to serious plant diseases.

In an earlier case the court ruled that USDA had violated 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.) But almost immediately 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 rushed to plant the seed crop in Oregon and Arizona, apparently
hoping to outrun the legal action to stop it. In this latest case, USDA
argued that the seedlings were separate from the rest of the sugar beet crop
cycle and had no impact by themselves, but Judge White rejected this. He
found that the law requires USDA to analyze the impacts of not only the
seedlings, but the rest of the Roundup Ready sugar beet production process
as well, before any part of that process can begin.

Courts have twice rescinded USDA's approval of biotech crops. The first such
crop, Roundup Ready alfalfa, is also illegal to plant, based on the vacating
of its deregulation in 2007 pending preparation of an EIS. Although
Monsanto appealed that case all the way to the Supreme Court and the High
Court set aside part of the relief granted, the full prohibition on its
planting - based on the same initial remedy granted here, the vacatur -
remains in place.

This case is Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, No. C10-04038 JSW (N.D. Cal.
 link to www.centerforfoodsafety.org