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USDA sued over GM sugar beet permits

A lawsuit Thursday was filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture in federal district court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, over the agency’s decision to allow the immediate planting of genetically modified sugar beets.

According to the plaintiffs, the USDA's decision violates an August court ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White that prohibited plantings of genetically modified sugar beets.

White found the GM beets, which were to be grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where many seeds from other crops also grow, could potentially cross-pollinate with table beets and Swiss chard and contaminate organic crops in the area.

Last week, the USDA announced it would issue permits for seed producers to plant the GM beets in the Willamette Valley area, but that these crops would not be allowed to flower.

“The Court has already found that the approval of this engineered crop was illegal,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety in a release. “Rather than complying with the court’s order, the USDA is once again acting as a rogue agency in illegally allowing these crops to be planted without the required hard look at their environmental and economic dangers.”

A USDA spokesman was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

The beets in question are modified to resist the Monsanto herbicide, Roundup, which the company sees as a way to improve crop yields but which opponents fear could threaten human and environment health.

Until the hearing, the plaintiffs have asked the court to issue a preliminary court order prohibiting farmers who have been issued permits by the USDA from planting the GM seeds.

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