On September 1, 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced that it was in the process of issuing permits to authorize the planting of genetically engineered (GE) sugar beet seedlings this fall, without performing any review of the crops’ environmental impacts. These GE beets have been altered so that they can tolerate being sprayed with Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. The unprecedented permitting process for a commercially-grown genetically engineered crop was initiated without public notice and comment or any environmental review. Last week, the agency met with companies involved and invested in promoting the gene-altered crop.
On August 13, 2010, United States District Judge Jeffrey S. White vacated USDA’s approval of the GE sugar beets, making the planting of these beets after the date of the order illegal. The Court reversed the agency’s approval because of the USDA’s failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. Specifically, the USDA had failed to prepare an Environmental Statement addressing the potential of these GE plants to cause a variety of environmental and social-economic injuries, including contaminating conventional and organic crops and promoting the growth of “superweeds” that are resistant to Roundup, and therefore are very difficult to eradicate unless highly toxic chemicals are used.
In his opinion, Judge White admonished the agency for “not taking the [NEPA] process seriously.” The USDA action today in allowing planting without any environmental review justifies the Court’s concern.
The recent court ruling on sugar beets follows a series of other federal court opinions which reversed USDA approvals of GE plants. These courts also faulted the agency for its continuing failure to address the biological pollution issue surrounding genetically engineered alfalfa, bentgrass and so-called biopharmaceutical crops. Despite repeatedly being ordered to do so, the USDA has yet to complete a single Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) assessing any GE crop.
“USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops. Despite numerous court opinions, congressional mandates and federal investigations, it continues to act illegally,” stated Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “The agency and Secretary Vilsack seem to see their mission as defending Monsanto’s bottom line rather than protecting farmers and consumers,” Kimbrell concluded.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff commented, “USDA’s persistent refusal to comply with environmental laws in the face of one court decision after another is remarkable. This is yet another instance of USDA serving Monsanto’s interests at the expense of the public interest, without regard to the rule of law.”
The coalition said it was considering legal action.