Federal Court Rescinds USDA Approval of Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets

Bans planting or sale of controversial crop


Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436

Federal district Judge Jeffrey White issued a ruling late Friday rescinding the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) approval of genetically engineered “Roundup Ready” sugar beets. The ruling came in a case brought by the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club. The groups were represented by Earthjustice and attorneys with the Center for Food Safety.

In September 2009, the court ruled the USDA had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by approving the Monsanto-engineered biotech crop without first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The crop is genetically engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which it sells to farmers together with the patented seed. Similar Roundup Ready crops have led to increased use of herbicides, proliferation of herbicide resistant weeds, and contamination of conventional and organic crops.

In the recent ruling, the court prohibited future planting and sale of the sugar beets until the USDA prepares the EIS and complies with all other relevant laws. USDA has estimated that an EIS may be ready by 2012.

Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety, stated, “This is a major victory for farmers, consumers and the rule of law. USDA has once again acted illegally and had its approval of a biotech crop rescinded. Hopefully the agency will learn that their mandate is to protect farmers, consumers and the environment and not the bottom line of corporations such as Monsanto.”

Paul Achitoff of Earthjustice said, “USDA has ignored the law and abdicated its duty to protect the environment and American agriculture from genetically engineered crops designed to sell toxic chemicals. Time and again, citizens speaking truth to power have taken USDA to court and won.”

In his order, Judge White noted that USDA’s errors are not minor or insignificant and voiced concern that the USDA was not taking this process seriously. He also pointed out that “despite the fact that the statutes at issue are designed to protect the environment,” USDA and the sugar beet industry focused on the economic consequences to themselves, yet “failed to demonstrate that serious economic harm would be incurred pending a full economic review….”

This is the second time a court has rescinded USDA’s approval of a biotech crop. The first such crop, Roundup Ready alfalfa, was also found to have been illegally allowed onto the market. Although Monsanto took that case all the way to the Supreme Court, and the high court overruled part of the lower court ruling, the alfalfa remains illegal to plant.

In the past several years, federal courts have also held illegal USDA’s approval of biotech crop field trials, including the testing of biotech grasses in Oregon and the testing of engineered, pharmaceutical-producing crops in Hawai’i.

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.