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U.S. Judge Sour On Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets

August 15, 2010

Monsanto Co. has been dealt a major setback as a federal judge on Friday banned the planting of genetically engineered sugar beets by the biotech giant.

Reuters reports that US District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that the US Department of Agriculture’s approval of Monsanto’s genetically altered sugar beets was without adequate environmental study.

Sugar beets account for more than half of the country’s sugar supply. But traditional sugar beet seeds remain widely available and environmental groups that filed suit said the judge’s ruling should not affect the sugar production.

Judge White’s decision to impose the ban did not apply to crops that have already been planted or harvested. The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by environmental groups over Monsanto sugar beets engineered to be resistant to the weed killer Roundup.

Roundup, which is also manufactured by Monsanto, was sold to farmers together with the genetically modified sugar beet seeds.

George Kimbrell, a senior staff attorney for the Centers for Food Safety, and a plaintiff in the case, said the ruling is a “victory for farmers, for the environment and for the public.”

Monsanto said that revoking the government’s approval of its genetically altered seed could cost the company and its customers $2 billion or more in 2001 and 2012.

Caleb Weaver, spokesperson for the USDA, told Reuters that the agency was reviewing the judge’s order to “determine appropriate next steps.”

Idaho sugar beet farmer Duane Grant, who is also chairman of the Snake River Sugar cooperative, said: “Before planting next spring’s 2011 crop, clearly we are going to have to understand all of the implications of the judge’s ruling, and what might be open to us.”

Since White’s decision did not apply to sugar beets already planted or harvested, Grant said that there really is “no immediate impact on sugar availability or cost to the consumer.”

Sugar beets make up a little more than half of the country’s sugar crop, and about 95 percent of sugar beets come from genetically engineered seeds, said Grant.

The Center for Food Safety has countered that farmers can easily transfer back to traditional sugar beet seeds, which were widely used as recently as two years ago.

The sugar beet industry, which comes from crops grown in 11 US states, has been valued at $1.3 billion for 2007-2008 by the US government.

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