Ruling delayed on genetically modified sugar beets

by Ron Sterk
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KANSAS CITY — Judge Jeffery White delayed a decision until a later date after a hearing March 5 in a suit seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the production and planting of genetically engineered sugar beets.

Judge White, in the Northern District of California, took the matter under advisement and did not say when he would announce a decision, according to a March 7 story on the Capital Press web site. He also instructed both sides in the case to keep working on arguments over a possible permanent injunction.

A hearing on the case was scheduled for June, but the Capital Press said attorneys for both sides in the suit expected a ruling on the preliminary injunction soon because the planting season for sugar beets typically begins in late March and early April.

The suit was filed in January 2008 by the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club and High Mowing Organic Seeds against then U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Edward T. Schafer and Administrator of the U.S.D.A.’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Cindy Smith. It seeks to block the production and use of genetically engineered sugar beet seed as well as the growing and processing of sugar beets grown from the seeds. The groups claimed the U.S.D.A. did not complete a thorough enough environmental risk assessment when APHIS approved the seeds in 2005.

Trade sources indicate that in 2009 more than 95% of all U.S. sugar beet area was planted to the seed, which is resistant to Roundup herbicide, thus providing better weed control in fields. Sugar beet growers have indicated there is insufficient non-genetically engineered seed to plant this year should the judge grant the injunction, as well as a lack of necessary replacement herbicide and those who already have invested in seed and field preparation would suffer financial loss.

In court documents filed in the case, the U.S.D.A. said an injunction would unnecessarily penalize sugar beet producers and processors and would decimate the sugar beet industry and about half of the U.S. domestic sugar supply, according to the Capital Press.

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