PLAINTIFFS WANT BIO-BEET STECKLINGS UPROOTED

Plaintiffs in a case against biotech sugar beets have asked a federal judge to order that the season's root stock for seed production be dug up.

Disrupting this year's stecklings would throw doubt on the availability of sufficient seed for a 2012 crop of beets with Monsanto's Roundup Ready genes. Stecklings are planted in the fall uprooted during the winter, then replanted to produce seed.

The unregulated use of Roundup Ready sugar beets was banned by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White as a result of a previous lawsuit. White ordered USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to conduct an environmental impact statement before deciding whether the genetically modified beets could be deregulated.

On Monday, plaintiffs -- the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, the Sierra Club and High Mowing Organic Seeds -- filed a court argument saying APHIS had disobeyed the judge's order by permitting planting of the stecklings without environmental review.

White last week ordered plaintiffs to re-submit their request for a remedy on the stecklings. Plaintiffs had earlier requested a restraining order on planting, but USDA had already issued the permits and producers had already planted.

White gave the plaintiffs another chance to block production, indicating that his decision would partly hinge on whether USDA held back the information that it had permitted steckling production.

White ordered APHIS to "state under penalty of perjury exactly when and where it made the information public that the permits had been granted."

White ordered the agency to file a reply by Oct. 8. He scheduled a hearing on the request for Oct. 22.

The plaintiffs sued USDA on Sept. 9 to block its effort to allow restricted production of Roundup Ready beets for the next two years.

APHIS has said it intends to partially deregulate the seeds while it completes an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act.

White ruled in the previous case that the agency must produce the document in order to deregulate the seeds or the beets they produce. But he kicked to USDA the question of how to regulate the seeds in the mean time.

USDA then issued steckling permits as the season was starting, saying their restrictions -- in addition to the fact that stecklings never flower -- meant that they would pose no danger of cross-pollination with organic crops.

In their argument, plaintiffs accuse USDA of treating the public process as a "game" in which it creates "one fait accompli after another" to allow planting without prior environmental review.

In the previous case, "... the Court explicitly made further planting without such prior review unlawful," they said. "Defendants responded with another brazen game of brinksmanship."

The agency said it expects to implement partial deregulation by the end of the year.

SOURCE: Capital Press, USA

AUTHOR: Wes Sander

URL: http://www.capitalpress.com/newest/ws-sugar-beets-100810

DATE: 06.10.2010