For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Colin O'Neil (Center for Food Safety) 202-547-9359
Paul Achitoff (Earthjustice) 808-599-2436 x612

GE Sugar Beets: Groups Condemn USDA Action Avoiding Court Order

Attempt to Circumvent Recent Federal Court Order Making the Plantings Illegal

WASHINGTON - On September 1, 2010,
the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service (APHIS) announced that it was in the process of issuing permits
to authorize the planting of genetically engineered (GE) sugar beet
seedlings this Fall, without performing any review of the crops’
environmental impacts. These GE beets have been altered so that they can
tolerate being sprayed with Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. The
unprecedented permitting process for a commercially-grown
genetically engineered crop was initiated without public notice and
comment or any environmental review. Last week the agency met with
companies involved and invested in promoting the gene-altered crop.

On August 13, 2010, United States District Judge Jeffrey S. White
vacated USDA’s approval of the GE sugar beets, making the planting of
these beets after the date of the order illegal. The Court reversed the
agency’s approval because of the USDA’s failure
to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.  Specifically, the
USDA had failed to prepare an Environmental Statement addressing the
potential of these GE plants to cause a variety of environmental and
social-economic injuries, including contaminating
conventional and organic crops and promoting the growth of “superweeds”
that are resistant to Roundup, and therefore are very difficult to
eradicate unless highly toxic chemicals are used.  
In his opinion, Judge White admonished the agency for “not taking
the [NEPA] process seriously.” The USDA action today in allowing
planting without any environmental review justifies the Court’s concern.
The recent court ruling on sugar beets follows a series of other
federal court opinions which reversed USDA approvals of GE plants. 
These courts also faulted the agency for its continuing failure to
address the biological pollution issue surrounding genetically
engineered alfalfa, bentgrass and so-called biopharmaceutical crops. 
Despite repeatedly being ordered to do so, the USDA has yet to complete a
single Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) assessing any GE crop.
“USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops.
Despite numerous court opinions, congressional mandates and federal
investigations, it continues to act illegally,” stated Andrew Kimbrell
Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety.
“The agency and Secretary Vilsack seem to see their mission as defending
Monsanto’s bottom line rather than protecting farmers and consumers,”
Kimbrell concluded.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff commented, “USDA’s persistent
refusal to comply with environmental laws in the face of one court
decision after another is remarkable.  This is yet another instance of
USDA serving Monsanto’s interests at the expense
of the public interest, without regard to the rule of law.”
The coalition said it was considering legal action.     

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