The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice, 808-599-2436
Andrew Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety, 703-927-2826
Zelig Golden, Center for Food Safety, 415-826-2770
John Bianchi, Goodman Media, 212-576-2700
Matthew Dillion, Organic Seed Alliance, 360-385-7192
Tom Stearns, High Mowing Seeds, 802-472-6174
Neil Carman, Sierra Club, 512-288-5772

Government Failed To Evaluate Environmental and Economic Risks of Monsanto Product

Court Finds USDA Violated Federal Law by Allowing Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets on the Market

In a
case brought by Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice representing a
coalition of farmers and consumers, a Federal Court ruled yesterday
that the Bush USDA's approval of genetically engineered (GE) "RoundUp
Ready" sugar beets was unlawful. The Court ordered the USDA to conduct
a rigorous assessment of the environmental and economic impacts of the
crop on farmers and the environment.
The federal district court for the Northern
District of California ruled that the U. S. Department of Agriculture's
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service ("APHIS") violated the
National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") when it failed
to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") before
deregulating sugar beets that have been genetically engineered ("GE")
to be resistant to glyphosate herbicide, marketed by Monsanto as
Roundup. Plaintiffs Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance,
Sierra Club, and High Mowing Seeds, represented by Earthjustice and the
Center for Food Safety, filed suit against APHIS in January 2008,
alleging APHIS failed to adequately assess the environmental, health,
and associated economic impacts of allowing "Roundup
Ready" sugar beets to be commercially grown without restriction.
"This court decision is a wakeup call for the Obama
USDA that they will not be allowed to ignore the biological pollution
and economic impacts of gene altered crops," stated Andrew Kimbrell
Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety.
"The Courts have made it clear that USDA's job is to protect America's
farmers and consumers, not the interests of Monsanto."
While industry asserts that the adoption rates of
GE sugar beets has been high, food producers have shown reluctance in
accepting GE beet sugar. Over 100 companies have joined the Non-GM Beet
Sugar Registry opposing the introduction of GE
sugar beets, and pledging to seek wherever possible to avoid using GM
beet sugar in their products:
Sugar beet seed is grown primarily in Oregon's
Willamette Valley, which is also an important seed growing area for
crops closely related to sugar beets, such as organic chard and table
beets. GE sugar beets are wind pollinated and will
inevitably cross-pollinate the related crops being grown in the same
area. Such biological contamination would be devastating to organic
farmers, who face debilitating market losses if their crops are
contaminated by a GE variety. Contamination also reduces
the ability of conventional farmers to decide what to grow, and limits
consumer choice of the foods they can eat. In his September 21, 2009
order requiring APHIS to prepare an EIS, Judge Jeffrey S. White
emphasized that "the potential elimination of a farmer's
choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer's choice
to eat non-genetically engineered food, is an action that potentially
eliminates or reduces the availability of a particular plant has a
significant effect on the human environment."
The Court found "no support in the record" for
APHIS' conclusion that conventional sugar beets would remain available
for farmers and consumers and held that the agency's decision that
there would be no impacts from the GE beets "unreasonable."
The Court also held that APHIS failed to analyze
the impacts of biological contamination on the related crops of red
table beets and Swiss chard. "Organic seed is the foundation of organic
farming and organic food integrity, said Mathew
Dillion, Director of Advocacy of the Organic Seed Alliance. "We must
continue to protect this natural resource, along with the rights of
organic farmers to be protected from negative economic impact from GE
crops, and consumers rights' to choose to eat food
free of GE components."
"The ruling is a major consumer victory for
preserving the right to grow and eat organic foods in the United
States," stated Neil Carman of the Sierra Club. "Environmental impacts
of Roundup Ready sugar beets were also not considered by
APHIS, and they need to be fully evaluated."
"Roundup Ready" crops allow farmers to douse their
fields with Monsanto's Roundup herbicide without killing the crop.
Constant application of the herbicide has resulted in weeds becoming
resistant to it. There are now millions of acres
across the U.S. of such "superweeds," including marestail, ragweed, and
waterhemp, and farmers are using greater applications of Roundup or
other, even more toxic chemicals. According to an independent analysis
of USDA data by former Board of Agriculture Chair
of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Charles Benbrook, GE crops
increased herbicide use in the U.S. by 122 million pounds - a 15-fold
increase - between 1994 (when GE herbicide-tolerant crops were
introduced) to 2004.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff noted,
"Although touted by Monsanto as offering all sorts of benefits, GE
crops offer consumers nothing, and are designed primarily to sell
herbicides. The end result their use is more toxics in our environment
and our food, disappointed farmers, and revenue for Monsanto."
A 2008 scientific study revealed that Roundup
formulations and metabolic products cause the death of human embryonic,
placental, and umbilical cells in vitro even at low concentrations.
Other recent studies suggest Roundup is an endocrine
disrupter, and that some amphibians and other organisms may be at risk
from glyphosate.
In addition, Judge Jeffrey S. White - in his ruling
- has scheduled a meeting in his courtroom on October 30, 2009 to
discuss the remedies phase of the case, including potential injunctive
Monsanto has been the subject of increasing
speculation that the Department of Justice's antitrust division is
scrutinizing the biotechnology company's control of the markets for GE
crops, and for commodities such as corn, soy and cotton.
The case is Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack,
No. C 08-00484 JSW (N.D. Cal. 2009). The decision follows on the heels
of a June 2009 decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
affirming the illegality of the APHIS' approval
of Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa.