Foot soldiers in the ongoing battle against Behemoth Biotech celebrated a small but important victory in May, after a federal appeals court threw out a Monsanto appeal and reaffirmed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture must complete an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) before permanently allowing commercial use of genetically-engineered sugar beets.
“It is precedential,” said Center for Food Safety attorney Paige Tomaselli, in an interview with New Hope 360. “It means that when the government is considering deregulating a genetically-engineered crop, it is required to do an EIS first.”
The USDA first approved Genuity Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2005, clearing the way for what Monsanto calls the “fastest adoption of any biotech crop to date.” CFS and others sued in 2008, alleging that GE sugar beets could contaminate non-GE crops, including table beets and chard, boost pesticide pollution, and spawn super-weeds. In Fall, 2009, Federal District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White ruled in their favor, saying the USDA should have prepared an EIS before making their decision, and ordering the agency to do so.
But Monsanto and other companies have since appealed, hanging the EIS up in court while planting of Round-up Ready sugar beets has continued. On May 20, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, issued a summary order rejecting Monsanto’s appeal and putting what Tomaselli believes is a “final nail in the coffin” of that case.
What does it all mean?
While an EIS may seem like a no-brainer precaution to take before approving a new technology with such vast potential environmental impacts, Tomaselli points out that after 15 years of commercialization of GE crops, sugar beets will be only the second to be subjected to an EIS (the other was alfalfa – which, by the way, was deregulated anyway). Both were court ordered.
The bad news for those concerned about genetically altered sugar making its way onto their breakfast table: this decision does not mean GE sugar beets can no longer be planted. (USDA has OK’d it under certain conditions as an “interim measure” until the EIS is completed).
The good news: The USDA now vows to complete its EIS on sugar beets by May, 2012, allowing for what CFS hopes will be “frank and public disclosure and debate” about the environmental ramifications of GE crops.
The next step, says Tomaselli: To get the government to listen this time.