Court of Appeals Dismisses Monsanto’s Appeal of Biotech Beets Case, Preserves Victory for Farmers, Environment
Upholds Lower Court’s Rulings Requiring New USDA Approval Decision and Rigorous Review of the Crop’s Impacts: Litigation Over USDA’s Interim Approval of Planting Continues
Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a summary order concluding a long-standing lawsuit over the impacts of genetically engineered (GE) “Roundup Ready” sugar beets. As a result, previous court rulings in favor of farmers and conservation advocates will remain, including the order requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prepare a rigorous review of the impacts of GE sugar beets, engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, before deciding whether to again allow their future commercial use.
Center for Food Safety (CFS) attorney George Kimbrell: “Today’s order cements a critical legal benchmark in the battle for meaningful oversight of biotech crops and food. Because of this case, there will be public disclosure and debate on the harmful impacts of these pesticide-promoting crops, as well as legal protections for farmers threatened by contamination.”
CFS, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club, represented by CFS and Earthjustice, challenged the USDA approval in 2008. They argued that GE sugar beets would contaminate organic and non-GE farmers of related crops, such as table beets and chard, as well as increase pesticide impacts on the environment and worsen the current Roundup-resistant “superweeds” epidemic in U.S. agriculture. In September 2009, Judge Jeffrey S. White in the federal district court in San Francisco agreed, and ordered USDA to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) assessing these and other impacts, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In August 2010, after a year of vigorous litigation over the proper remedy for USDA’s unlawful approval, the court again agreed with plaintiffs, threw out the USDA’s approval, and halting planting.
Monsanto and other biotech industry intervenors appealed on procedural grounds which, if granted, threatened to undo the earlier rulings. Today’s order dismissed that appeal and affirmed the lower court’s rulings.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff: “Dismissal of the appeal confirms that the district court rightly concluded that in this case, as in every other case that has challenged USDA’s oversight of genetically engineered crops, the agency has flouted the law, favoring the interests of Monsanto over those of American people. With every court decision the need for fundamental reform in this area becomes ever more obvious.”
Remarkably, the EIS is only the second USDA has undertaken for any GE crop in over 15 years of approving such crops for human consumption. Both analyses were court-ordered. USDA said it expects to finish the GE sugar beets EIS and have a new decision on commercialization in 2012.
Despite the absence of lawful review or a new agency decision, in summer 2010, USDA and the biotech industry demanded the court allow planting to continue unabated. The district court refused to do so and instead set aside USDA’s approval of the crop based on the agency’s failure to comply with environmental laws. That precedential ruling was also preserved by today’s order.
During this case’s appeal, USDA approved 2011-2012 planting of GE sugar beets under the terms of a novel permitting and “partial deregulation” scheme while it conducted the court-ordered analysis. That decision is the subject of separate litigation that is ongoing in the District of Columbia.
Monsanto created “Roundup Ready” crops to withstand its Roundup herbicide (with the active ingredient glyphosate). Growing previous Roundup Ready crops such as soy, cotton, and corn have led to greater use of herbicides. It has also led to the spread of herbicide resistant weeds on millions of acres throughout the United States and other countries where such crops are grown, as well as contamination of conventional and organic crops, which has been costly to U.S. farmers.