Thursday, September 2, 2010

Federal Judge vacates Sugar Beat rule and prevents planting genetically engineered crops

Sugar Beets photo Courtesy of Colorado Farm Bureau
Forbes has an article criticizing Judge Jeffery S. White for enjoining planting of the genetically engineered sugar beet Event H7-1.  Forbes reports this affects 95% of planted sugar in the United States.

The case began when Monsanto filed a request with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) seeking to have Event H7-1 deregulated so that it could plant the seed anywhere in the country.  APHIS granted the request and the Center for Food Safety, representing a group of organic farmers in Northern California, sued to enjoin the agency's ruling because it felt that pollen spread by  insects from genetically enhanced sugar beets would commingle with un-enhanced beets which compromises the organic nature of the un-enhanced beets.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires government agencies to complete certain procedures before passing rules.  When APHIS first considered whether to deregulate Event H7-1 it produced an Environmental Assessment (EA).  The EA concluded with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) to the environment.  Had the proposed project, "significantly affect[ed]" the environment APHIS would have had to create a much more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  Because of the FONSI, APHIS allowed sugar beet growers to plant Event H7-1.

The Center for Food Safety sued to enjoin the deregulation of Event H7-1 because it argued that these sugar beets could cross pollinate with other sugar beets and damage them.  Judge White agreed and in September 2009 ruled that the cross pollination had a significant affect on the environment.  Therefore, APHIS should have completed an EIS and its failure to do so was a violation of NEPA.

What APHIS did next is interesting - nothing.  As noted in a motion for a permanent injunction, APHIS claimed it would need six months to complete an EIS, which, as of two weeks ago, it had not began.  This infuriated Judge White who felt that his September order requiring APHIS to complete an EIS was disregarded.  The Center for Food Safety stated that the rule should be vacated, meaning that Event H7-1 sugar beets could no longer be planted in the United States.  On August 14, Judge White granted the motion to vacate the order and genetically enhanced sugar beets cannot be planted in the United States.  The Colorado Farm Bureau reports that this process may take two years.

The case is Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack 08-0484.  I have attached the summary judgment decision and the remedies order below the jump.

Here is the Summary Judgment Order:
Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack MSJ
Here is the Remedies Order:
Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack

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