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RISK ASSESSMENT & APPROVAL: New lawsuit filed over U.S. GE beet deregulation



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   NEW LAWSUIT FILED OVER IN BIOTECH BEETS

SOURCE:  The Billings Gazette, USA

AUTHOR:  Tom Lutey

URL:     http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/article_7648bc96-7d27-555e-b073-a302d8a0dd9e.html

DATE:    10.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Farmers are giving a sour response to tight federal regulations on biotech sugar beets. The regulations, issued last week as part of a last-minute effort to prevent a national sugar shortage, go too far, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this week by sugar beet farmers. Interview requests placed with attorneys for the farmers Thursday went unanswered."

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NEW LAWSUIT FILED OVER IN BIOTECH BEETS

Farmers are giving a sour response to tight federal regulations on biotech sugar beets.

The regulations, issued last week as part of a last-minute effort to prevent a national sugar shortage, go too far, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this week by sugar beet farmers. Interview requests placed with attorneys for the farmers Thursday went unanswered.

Beet sugar makes up more than half the nation?s sugar supply and more than 95 percent of the beets planted have been genetically designed to survive sprayings of the powerful herbicide Roundup.

The 2011 beet crop has been in doubt because of lawsuits by environmental groups alleging the government hasn?t done enough to make sure biotech beets are safe.

And those environmental groups have been successful. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been court ordered to take a closer look at biotech beets and report back in early 2012.

The regulations announced last week are supposed to allow the 2011 crop to take place while USDA does its research.

However the regulations are too much, the farmers say. USDA would only allow the 2011 crop if farmers agreed not to plant another one one the same ground for four years. There would also have to be a four-mile buffer between the biotech crops and any of its vegetable relatives like table beets or Swiss chard.

Those requirements stem from worries about renegade seeds and cross pollination that could transfer biotech traits to non-biotech crops, a concern raised by the organic seed industry.

Lawsuits challenging the USDA?s earlier approval of biotech beets are based on concerns of cross pollination in Willamette Valley, Ore., where biotech beets and organic crops are both raised for seed.

Farmers contend the USDA is making demands federal law doesn?t allow. They?re asking a Washington, D.C., court to disallow any rules the overreach.

In another U.S. District Court in California, environmentalists are asking for the exact opposite. Attorney Paige Tomaselli said Thursday that USDA isn?t doing enough make sure biotech beets are safe. She would like to see the Agriculture Department?s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service regulating more.

?They think the restrictions are too hard. We think the restrictions aren?t harsh enough,? Tomaselli said. ?I think APHIS has the power to regulate GE (genetically engineered) crops and create GE-free zones if they wish to.?

Opponents of biotech crops were hoping for tight restrictions last month when the USDA gave unconditional approval to Roundup resistant alfalfa. Buffer zones and planting restrictions similar to what?s been proposed for beets were considered for biotech alfalfa.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had earlier told a mostly non-biotech group of farmers that USDA would take steps to assure biotech crops, which have been around for 15 years and now include 75 varieties, co-existed with organic other crops marketed to consumers as being biotech free.

Sugar beet farmers, in their lawsuit filed this week, said there is already enough science proving biotech beets aren?t a threat. The last approval of the crop by USDA cites more than 300 scientific studies and more than 100 field tests on biotech beets. That should be enough to clear the crop for planting without tight restrictions, the farmers contend.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   FARMERS AND CONSERVATIONISTS CHALLENGE LATEST FEDERAL APPROVAL OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED SUGAR BEETS

SOURCE:  The Center for Food Safety, USA

AUTHOR:  Press Release

URL:     http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/2011/02/04/farmers-and-conservationists-challenge-latest-federal-approval-of-genetically-engineered-sugar-beets/

DATE:    04.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Today the USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued a new decision to allow the U.S. sugar beet industry to continue growing Monsanto?s ?Roundup Ready,? genetically engineered sugar beets. The decision will be immediately challenged in court by a coalition of farmers and conservation groups: the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club. This is the same coalition that in August of last year had APHIS?s previous decision to allow planting thrown out because it violated environmental laws. The coalition declared the new decision unlawful as well, and vowed to overturn it."

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FARMERS AND CONSERVATIONISTS CHALLENGE LATEST FEDERAL APPROVAL OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED SUGAR BEETS

San Francisco, CA ? February 4, 2011 ? In defiance of earlier court ruling, USDA allows continued growing of controversial, illegally planted crop

Today the USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a new decision to allow the U.S. sugar beet industry to continue growing Monsanto?s ?Roundup Ready,? genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets. The decision will be immediately challenged in court by a coalition of farmers and conservation groups: the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club. This is the same coalition that in August of last year had APHIS?s previous decision to allow planting thrown out because it violated environmental laws. The coalition declared the new decision unlawful as well, and vowed to overturn it.

The sugar beets are genetically engineered by Monsanto to tolerate repeated applications of that company?s weed killer Roundup, or glyphosate. Judge Jeffrey White of the federal district court for the Northern District of California found in earlier rulings that growing the GE sugar beets is likely to cause irreparable harm to the groups? members and the environment, and ?may cross-pollinate with non-genetically engineered sugar beets and related Swiss chard and table beets,? and ordered the federal government to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as required by the National Environmental Policy Act before allowing the GE sugar beets to be grown. The USDA is continuing to work on the court-ordered EIS, but considers today?s documents sufficient to allow growers to continue growing the controversial crop illegally planted in defiance of the earlier court ruling.

?There is clear evidence of harm to the environment from GE sugar beets,? said Paige Tomaselli, Staff Attorney for the Center for Food Safety. ?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.?

In spite of that court order, the federal agency today issued a far less comprehensive Environmental Assessment, claiming it adequately considers the damage the GE sugar beets are likely to cause. According to APHIS, Roundup Ready sugar beets can be partially deregulated without having a significant effect on the environment. This conclusion is at sharp odds with earlier court rulings and the views of growers of organic and non-GE crops, who will likely see their crops contaminated by the GE sugar beets, threatening their livelihoods and the ability of farmers and consumers to choose non-GE foods.

Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff commented: ?The lax conditions on growing the GE sugar beets in today?s approval are not materially different from those earlier rejected by the federal court as inadequate to protect other farmers, the public, and the environment. USDA has yet again violated the law requiring preparation of an EIS before unleashing this genetically engineered crop.?

Monsanto created ?Roundup Ready? crops to withstand its Roundup herbicide (with the active ingredient glyphosate). The introduction of previous Roundup Ready crops over the last decade, such as soy, cotton, and corn, have led to a 382 million pound overall increase in 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.

In 2008, the groups sued USDA for deregulating Monsanto?s genetically modified sugar beets without complying with the National Environmental Policy Act?s requirement of an EIS before deregulating the crop. On August 13, 2010, the federal court banned the crop until USDA fully analyzed the impacts of the GE plant on the environment, farmers and the public in an EIS.

Three weeks later, despite the court?s ruling, and without any prior environmental analysis, USDA issued permits to seed growers to again grow the genetically modified sugar beets. The groups again sued USDA. On November 30, 2010, the court granted the groups? motion for a preliminary injunction and ordered the seed crop destroyed. That order was stayed pending appeal, which is scheduled for argument on February 15, 2011.

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The Center for Food Safety is a national, non-profit, membership organization founded in 1997 to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. CFS currently represents over 180,000 members across the nation.

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:   OTA DEPLORES USDA ACTION TO PROCEED WITH GENETICALLY ENGINEERED SUGAR BEETS DESPITE COURT ORDER

SOURCE:  Organic Trade Association, USA (OTA)

AUTHOR:  Press Release

URL:     http://www.organicnewsroom.com/2011/02/ota_deplores_usda_action_to_pr.html

DATE:    07.02.2011

SUMMARY: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made a decision to continue to allow planting of St Louis based-Monsanto?s Roundup Ready sugar beets despite a court order to complete a final Environmental Impact Statement before making any decision on deregulation for genetically engineered sugar beets. The crop in question is genetically altered to tolerate increased application of toxic herbicides. Astoundingly, this decision comes one week after the USDA decision to release Roundup Ready alfalfa without restriction."

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OTA DEPLORES USDA ACTION TO PROCEED WITH GENETICALLY ENGINEERED SUGAR BEETS DESPITE COURT ORDER

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb, 7, 2011)? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made a decision to continue to allow planting of St Louis based-Monsanto?s Roundup Ready sugar beets despite a court order to complete a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before making any decision on deregulation for genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets. The crop in question is genetically altered to tolerate increased application of toxic herbicides. Astoundingly, this decision comes one week after the USDA decision to release Roundup Ready alfalfa without restriction. Monsanto owns both the Roundup herbicide and the genetically altered crops.

?Once again, USDA has plowed ahead on genetically engineered crops, this time to approve a petition for partial deregulation, even though the courts have found that USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) failed to comply with National Environmental Policy Act mandates,? said Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

She added, ?This direct affront to farmer and consumer choice flies in the face of USDA?s mandate and greatly jeopardizes agricultural diversity and the future of rural American livelihoods.?

In its announcement Friday, USDA did keep regulated status for GE sugar beet seed production. However, OTA decried any movement by USDA to act at this point without completing the final EIS.

Unrestricted commercialization of GE crops?86 percent of the country?s corn and 93 percent of soybeans?has resulted in widespread unlabeled presence of GE materials in mainstream food products unbeknownst to the average consumer. The USDA organic program is the only federal food label that prohibits the use of GE crops or materials. Currently, the organic sector bears the burden created by unchecked release of GE crops. According to USDA, 95 percent of sugar beets grown in the United States are genetically modified to tolerate Monsanto?s herbicide, even though in 2009, the courts decided that non-regulated status violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

OTA filed public comment on Dec. 6 calling on USDA to not move forward with genetically altered sugar beets in any manner without completing the EIS. On Jan 26, OTA joined other organic companies and interests to sign on as amici curiae in the ongoing litigation to halt the continued planting of GE sugar beets.

?It is amazing that we find ourselves in this situation where the average consumer has no idea the extent of genetic engineering in the domestic sugar supply,? Bushway said. She added that releasing GE crops into the environment has the potential for environmental, health, and economic impacts that USDA is failing to take seriously as it hands another victory to the well-funded and influential biotech industry.

?The expected impact of this decision is far reaching, particularly to organic farmers and consumers. With 21 petitions for other new genetically altered crops pending, we are left to wonder how future farmer and consumer choice can be maintained under the current circumstances,? Bushway said.

OTA is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA?s Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members, and its mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy (www.ota.com). OTA?s membership, including the full organic supply chain from single operator growers to Fortune 250 companies, represents over 4,500 certified organic operations in the United States.