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RISK ASSESSMENT & APPROVAL: Monsanto sugar beets: U.S. OKs planting of genetically modified sugar beets despite court ban



                                  PART 1


------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   MONSANTO SUGAR BEETS: U.S. OKS PLANTING OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED SUGAR BEETS DESPITE COURT BAN

SOURCE:  Los Angeles Times, USA

AUTHOR:  P. J. Huffstutter

URL:     http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-sugar-beet-20110204,0,679352.story

DATE:    04.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Move comes after USDA estimates of a sugar shortage. Regulators place some restrictions on the plantings pending a court-ordered review. Opponents say they?ll go to court again to try to stop the action. Despite a court ban, federal regulators said Friday that farmers would be able to plant genetically modified sugar beets this year ? though such plantings would have to happen under certain conditions while the government finishes up a full environmental impact statement."

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MONSANTO SUGAR BEETS: U.S. OKS PLANTING OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED SUGAR BEETS DESPITE COURT BAN

Move comes after USDA estimates of a sugar shortage. Regulators place some restrictions on the plantings pending a court-ordered review. Opponents say they?ll go to court again to try to stop the action.

Despite a court ban, federal regulators said Friday that farmers would be able to plant genetically modified sugar beets this year ? though such plantings would have to happen under certain conditions while the government finishes up a full environmental impact statement.

The news comes after estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the country?s sugar supply could run short and domestic farmers could lose as much as 21% of their 2011 crop if they were unable to use the seeds this spring.

The decision also marks the second time in recent days that the USDA gave farmers the go-ahead to plant genetically engineered crops. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this month that the department would authorize unrestricted commercial cultivation of genetically modified alfalfa, another biotech crop based on seeds developed by Monsanto Co. that are resistant to its Roundup Ready herbicide.

Friday?s decision is a temporary measure until the Agriculture Department can complete its study of the effects of planting Monsanto?s Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds, officials said in a statement Friday.

Opponents of the genetically modified crop were outraged by the news and announced plans Friday to immediately return to federal court in San Francisco to stop the action.

?Nothing they?re saying now significantly changes the risks that prompted the court to make the decision that it did,? said Paul Achitoff, an attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit environment firm that is one of the groups that sued the USDA in 2008 for approving the use of biotech beets.

In August 2010, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White banned future plantings of the plants until the federal government had completed a more thorough review.

Critics contend that the use of the popular seed has resulted in increased use of herbicides, the contamination of organic and other crops and a boom in ?super weeds? that are resistant to herbicides. White sided with Earthjustice and other plaintiffs, who had argued that the sugar beets could cause irreparable harm to organic and other conventionally grown crops, and that the preventive measures the USDA would require from farmers weren?t thorough enough.

?We don?t think what they?re saying now, and what they?re doing now, will fly with the court,? Achitoff said.

On Friday, the USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said that evidence and public comments gathered so far had convinced officials that the seeds ?can be partially deregulated without posing a plant pest risk or having a significant effect on the environment,? Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS? biotechnology regulatory services, said in a statement.

Monsanto?s biotech seeds are used to produce an estimated 95% of the U.S. sugar beet crop. The crop accounts for more than half of the country?s sugar supply, according to USDA data.

Monsanto had petitioned the government to deregulate the seeds and allow them to be used this season, thereby letting the company continue to sell them.



                                  PART 2

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   ENGINEERED SUGAR BEETS GET GO-AHEAD FROM U.S.D.A.

SOURCE:  The New York Times, USA

AUTHOR:  Andrew Pollak

URL:     http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/05/business/05beet.html?_r=1

DATE:    04.02.2011

SUMMARY: "The Department of Agriculture said on Friday that American farmers could resume growing genetically engineered sugar beets that had been barred by a federal judge. The decision could allow farmers to plant the biotech seeds this spring, avoiding a possible shortage of sugar later on. ?The decision is a win for consumers,? said Duane Grant, a beet farmer in Rupert, Idaho, and chairman of the farmer-owned Snake River Sugar Company. ?It assures a full beet crop will be planted in 2011.?"

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ENGINEERED SUGAR BEETS GET GO-AHEAD FROM U.S.D.A.

The Department of Agriculture said on Friday that American farmers could resume growing genetically engineered sugar beets that had been barred by a federal judge.

The decision could allow farmers to plant the biotech seeds this spring, avoiding a possible shortage of sugar later on.

?The decision is a win for consumers,? said Duane Grant, a beet farmer in Rupert, Idaho, and chairman of the farmer-owned Snake River Sugar Company. ?It assures a full beet crop will be planted in 2011.?

But environmental groups and organic farmers were dismayed by the decision.

The genetically engineered beets accounted for more than 90 percent of the sugar beets grown last year. They can withstand spraying by the herbicide Roundup, allowing farmers to kill weeds without harming the crop.

But in August, in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups and organic farmers, a federal district court judge in San Francisco revoked the approval of the beets.

The judge, Jeffrey S. White, said the Agriculture Department had to prepare an environmental impact statement assessing the effects of the biotech crop. His biggest concern was that the genetically engineered trait could spread to organic sugar beet crops or to other crops like Swiss chard and red table beets.

But some farmers said there might not be enough nonengineered seed available to satisfy demand. The government projected a possible 20 percent reduction in American sugar production.

As a result, the Agriculture Department was under pressure to allow the genetically engineered beets to be grown ? and to do so in time for the spring planting season ? even though it did not expect to finish the environmental impact statement until May 2012.

The solution announced Friday was an interim ?partial deregulation? of the beets that will hold until the impact statement is done and a final decision made. The partial deregulation was requested by the two companies that developed the crop, Monsanto and KWS, a German seed company.

Farmer-owned sugar processing companies will enter into compliance agreements with the government covering their growers. The agreements will spell out the measures that must be taken to prevent the genetically engineered traits from spreading. Farmers? fields will be subject to inspection.

For seed production, growers will need permits and will be kept from growing such seeds within four miles of other sugar beet, table beet or chard seed fields.

Paul Achitoff, the lead counsel for the groups that sued the Agriculture Department, said the conditions imposed on the growers were no different from what was now done voluntarily and would not prevent the spread of the biotech trait.

?It?s just window dressing,? said Mr. Achitoff, who is with the group Earthjustice.

He said the groups would ask the court to block the Agriculture Department?s decision from being put into effect. One obstacle they could face, however, is that the Supreme Court, in a decision last year concerning genetically engineered alfalfa, said the Agriculture Department had the authority to grant partial deregulation.

Friday?s decision is the second in less than two weeks favorable to agricultural biotechnology companies and farmers who grow the genetically engineered crops.

Last week, the Agriculture Department allowed farmers to resume growing genetically engineered Roundup-resistant alfalfa without restrictions. In doing so, it pulled back from a proposal to restrict where the biotech alfalfa could be grown so as to prevent genetically engineered material from spreading to organic alfalfa.

Sugar beets are a fairly small crop, planted on a little over one million acres, mainly in northern states, and worth somewhat more than $1 billion. Beets account for roughly half of the American sugar supply, with the rest coming from sugar cane.

World sugar prices are extremely high now because of weather problems and poor output in Brazil and Australia. That would have made it more difficult and expensive to import sugar to make up for any shortfall of American production.



                                  PART 3

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   BIOTECH SUGAR BEETS GET USDA'S OK FOR SPRING PLANTING

SOURCE:  St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA

AUTHOR:  Georgina Gustin

URL:     http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/article_15688eb3-5ed0-5d1b-80e4-c83eb7954240.html

DATE:    05.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Farmers this spring can continue planting Monsanto?s genetically modified sugar beets, federal regulators announced Friday, despite an earlier court ruling that government approval for planting the beets violated environmental law. A federal judge ruled last August that no further planting of the genetically modified beets could go forward until regulators complete an environmental impact statement."

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BIOTECH SUGAR BEETS GET USDA'S OK FOR SPRING PLANTING

Farmers this spring can continue planting Monsanto?s genetically modified sugar beets, federal regulators announced Friday, despite an earlier court ruling that government approval for planting the beets violated environmental law.

A federal judge ruled last August that no further planting of the genetically modified beets could go forward until regulators complete an environmental impact statement.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday that though the statement would not be complete until May 2012, growers could plant the beets, which are engineered to withstand applications of the Roundup Ready weed killer, under compliance agreements and strict conditions.

?This partial deregulation is an interim measure,? said Michael Gregoire, a deputy administrator for the agency?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The USDA?s decision was another victory in a string of several for Monsanto and the biotech seed industry.

Last week, the agriculture department said it would allow unrestricted planting of genetically modified alfalfa. And last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court said the agriculture department had the authority to allow interim measure for the planting of modified alfalfa before the completion of the final impact statement.

Regulators originally allowed, or deregulated, the modified sugar beets in 2005, but some farm and conservation groups sued, saying the risk of contamination to conventional plants was too high and would potentially damage their industry.

Genetically modified sugar beets represent more than 90 percent of the sugar beets planted in the country and account for half of the sugar supply. Monsanto, along with the sugar beet industry, has said that preventing the planting of the beets would disrupt the flow of sugar and trigger havoc in the sugar markets.

A coalition of farmers and conservation groups said Friday that it would will immediately challenge the USDA?s decision.

?There is clear evidence of harm to the environment from GE sugar beets,? said Paige Tomaselli, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, which filed the original suit challenging the regulatory approval.

?Because USDA continues to bow to industry pressure and permits further commercial production of Roundup Ready sugar beets, without first prepared an EIS or protecting the public, the Center for Food Safety will once again seek to halt the planting in court.?

Monsanto stressed Friday that last summer?s court decision to require the environmental impact statement was based on a procedural matter, not the safety or efficacy of the product.

?Sugar beet farmers have been busy preparing for spring planting, waiting for USDA?s guidance and hoping it would come in time for spring planting,? Monsanto?s Steve Welker said in a statement.



                                  PART 4

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   USDA: FARMERS CAN PLANT GENETICALLY MODIFIED BEETS

SOURCE:  The Associated Press, USA

AUTHOR:  

URL:     http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iSP3N_GQl7RZIu1LECoSA3gQ4bxw?docId=9ea8ffae77084f83af8a56fd6c7ad61a

DATE:    04.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Genetically modified sugar beets designed to withstand the weedkiller Roundup can be planted under strict conditions with no threat to the environment and other plants, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday in a decision anxiously awaited by farmers. The agency?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said it would partially deregulate so-called Roundup Ready beets, letting farmers plant them while it finished work on a full environmental impact statement."

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USDA: FARMERS CAN PLANT GENETICALLY MODIFIED BEETS

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) ? Genetically modified sugar beets designed to withstand the weedkiller Roundup can be planted under strict conditions with no threat to the environment and other plants, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday in a decision anxiously awaited by farmers.

The agency?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said it would partially deregulate so-called Roundup Ready beets, letting farmers plant them while it finished work on a full environmental impact statement.

Last summer, a federal judge in California issued an order last summer halting the planting of genetically modified sugar beets until the USDA completed an environmental impact study on how the beets could affect conventional crops. The ruling had a widespread impact since nearly all the nation?s sugar beets come from the genetically altered seed, and farmers had worried the USDA wouldn?t finish its work in time for spring planting.

?This is a really big deal,? said Mike Moyle, a Republican lawmaker who used to grow sugar beets and still farms west of Boise, Idaho. If the decision hadn?t come soon, it would have been too late for farmers for this year?s planting, he said.

Sugar beets are planted on more than 1 million acres in 10 states, with Idaho, Minnesota and North Dakota being the top producers. Sugar beets supply half the nation?s sugar and about 95 percent are grown with the Roundup Ready strain developed by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.

?USDA?s decision is a positive step for sugar beet farmers,? said Steve Walker, a Monsanto sugar beet representative. ?Sugar beet farmers have been busy for spring planting, waiting for USDA?s guidance and hoping it would come in time for spring planting.?

Walker said Monsanto will carefully review the details of the interim measures.

The USDA website lists 18 requirements for farmers planting genetically modified sugar beets. They include restrictions on planting in California and several counties in Washington; maintaining a 4-mile distance between the male plants and all other commercial crops; properly cleaning cultivation and harvesting equipment to prevent modified seeds from being mixed with unmodified ones; and a labeling system to identify genetically modified seeds throughout the production process.

Paul Atchitoff, of Earthjustice, the group leading the fight against the USDA over the sugar beet deregulation, said the conditions are ?not materially different from the way the industry was growing before.?

?And those conditions resulted in contamination and will continue to result in contamination,? Atchitoff said.

Friday?s announcement does nothing to address the concerns the California judge outlined last year, and it will allow producers ?to do anything they want in practical effect,? he said.

He said his group would file another lawsuit immediately to stop the partial deregulation.

A telephone message for an APHIS spokesman late Friday was not immediately returned.

In its announcement, the USDA said sugar beet growers will have to agree to the conditions it outlined and violators could face civil or criminal penalties, including the seizure, quarantine and destruction of their beets.

Organic Valley, the nation?s largest organic farming cooperative with more than 1,600 farmers in 33 states, released a statement Friday criticizing the USDA?s decision.

?This is a clear indication the USDA is more interested in protecting the biotech industry than the health, safety, environment and property rights of U.S. farmers and consumers who choose not to grow or consume (genetically modified crops),? the La Farge, Wis.-based cooperative said.



                                  PART 5

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   USDA PARTIALLY DEREGULATING BIOTECH SUGAR BEETS

SOURCE:  Thomson Reuters, USA

AUTHOR:  Carey Gillam & Chuck Abbott

URL:     http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/05/us-sugarbeet-usda-idUSTRE71369O20110205

DATE:    04.02.2011

SUMMARY: "U.S. agricultural regulators on Friday said despite a court ban, they would allow commercial planting of genetically modified sugar beets under closely controlled conditions while they complete a full environmental impact statement. The move marks the second-such boost by the United States for contested biotech crops in a week, and underscores U.S. determination to expand the use of GMO crops amid rising global fears over food security and surging prices."

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USDA PARTIALLY DEREGULATING BIOTECH SUGAR BEETS

KANSAS CITY/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. agricultural regulators on Friday said despite a court ban, they would allow commercial planting of genetically modified sugar beets under closely controlled conditions while they complete a full environmental impact statement.

The move marks the second-such boost by the United States for contested biotech crops in a week, and underscores U.S. determination to expand the use of GMO crops amid rising global fears over food security and surging prices.

After approving genetically altered alfalfa last week in the face of bitter protest and after court rulings against an earlier sugar beet approval, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would allow Monsanto Co?s ?Roundup Ready? sugar beets back in the fields this spring.

Beet planting will be done under closely controlled conditions to prevent any potential plant pest risks, according to USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

?After conducting an environmental assessment, accepting and reviewing public comments and conducting a plant pest risk assessment, APHIS has determined that the Roundup Ready sugar beet root crop, when grown under APHIS imposed conditions, can be partially deregulated without posing a plant pest risk or having a significant effect on the environment,? said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS? biotechnology regulatory services.

Gregoire said the partial deregulation was an interim measure until APHIS completes a full environmental impact statement.

Monsanto?s biotech beets, engineered to tolerate the company?s Roundup herbicide and make weed management easier for growers, make up 95 percent of the U.S. sugar beet crop and are needed to avoid a steep drop in U.S. sugar production, officials have said.

The government has estimated that if growers have to rely on a limited supply of conventional sugar beet seeds, U.S. sugar production could drop by more than 1.6 million tons, or about 21 percent. Sugar beets account for more than half of the nation?s sugar supply.

?This technology has produced record harvests in recent years and increased farmer profitability while minimizing on-farm labor and environmental impact,? said Jim Greenwood, chief executive officer of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

?We remain hopeful that this action, along with the decision made last week on Roundup Ready alfalfa, will pave the way for new technologies in the pipeline,? Greenwood said.

Opponents to the biotech beets said the USDA action circumvents court orders, and they said they would take USDA back to court.

? USDA has yet again violated the law requiring preparation of an EIS (environmental impact statement) before unleashing this genetically engineered crop,? said Paul Achitoff, an attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm.

Along with the Center for Food Safety, Earthjustice sued USDA in 2008 for approving the biotech beets without conducting a full environmental impact assessment as required by law. They argued that widespread use of the crop leads to increased use of herbicides, proliferation of herbicide resistant weeds, and contamination of conventional and organic crops.

In August, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled in their favor, finding USDA?s 2005 approval of the beets was illegal, and banning the crop until the USDA prepared an EIS. He also ordered that beet seedlings currently in the ground be removed.

The USDA has appealed the order to remove already planted seedlings and a hearing is slated for February 15. The department has said a full environmental impact study will take until May 2012, and it does not want to wait that long to allow planting.

Under the partial deregulation announced Friday, growers of the Roundup Ready sugar beet rootcrop will be required to enter into a compliance agreement that outlines mandatory requirements for how the crop can be grown. APHIS expects that sugar beet cooperatives and processors will be the only entities that will enter into compliance agreements on behalf of their respective members/farmers.

APHIS said it will regulate the seed crop through its permitting process.

The beet decision could set a precedent for how the USDA treats some of the two dozen other GMO crops under review for approval, according to an official with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

?That is an important change in the way the agency has regulated genetically engineered crops,? said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior UCS scientist.

Center for Food Safety attorney Paige Tomaselli said the measures were inadequate.

?The measures provided in the decision will not protect farmers and will not protect public health and the environment,? she said. ?Because USDA continues to bow to industry pressure and permits further commercial production of Roundup Ready sugar beets, without first preparing an EIS or protecting the public, the Center for Food Safety will once again seek to halt the planting in court.?

(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Chuck Abbott in Washington; additional reporting by Christopher Doering in Washington; editing by Marguerita Choy)