Court overturns ruling on sugar beet root stock

by Ron Sterk
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KANSAS CITY — The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Calif., late last week overturned a district court order to destroy bioengineered sugar beet root stock, or stecklings, being grown under U.S. Department of Agriculture permits that would produce seed for planting in 2012.

“Because the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate irreparable harm, we reverse and vacate the preliminary injunction and direct that the permits be given full force and effect,” the appellate court said in its ruling. The court also noted that because about 44% of domestic refined sugar comes from sugar beets, “The contribution of the sugar beet to the national agricultural economy is, to say the least, considerable.”

An estimated 95% of the 2010 U.S. sugar beet crop acreage was planted to the bioengineered seed, which reduced production costs for growers and boosted yields compared with conventional seed.

The U.S.D.A.’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued permits in August 2010 to allow planting of the stecklings “in select, remote areas,” which were intended for research and breeding use and for seed and hybrid seed production for 2012.

The appellate court’s ruling reverses the Nov. 30, 2010, order by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White for the Northern District of California to have the stecklings “removed from the ground” as of Dec. 7, 2010. The appeals court had issued a stay on Judge White’s order in early December until Dec. 23, 2010, and in late December extended that stay until Feb. 28, 2011. Judge White’s order was just one part of several ongoing lawsuits filed by the Center for Food Safety and others concerning the use of “Roundup Ready” sugar beet seeds from Monsanto Co. that were approved by the U.S.D.A. in 2005.

Last week’s appellate court ruling affected only the litigation referred to as “Sugar Beets II” involving plaintiffs’ attempt to stop production of stecklings. Other cases referred to as “Sugar Beets I,” which involves the U.S.D.A.’s complete deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2005, and “Sugar Beets III,” involving the U.S.D.A.’s February 2011 partial deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets, are not affected by the latest court action.

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