September 22, 2009 / 9:49 PM / in 8 years

US court rules against Monsanto's GMO sugarbeets

* Court finds USDA failed to evaluate risk

* Orders environmental impact report

* Critics say GMO sugarbeets promote “superweeds” (Recasts, updates with details from court decision, comments)

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Sept 22 (Reuters) - A federal U.S. court has ruled in favor of critics of Monsanto (MON.N) Co’s genetically engineered sugar beets, saying the U.S. government failed to adequately evaluate environmental and economic risks associated with the crop.

The U.S. District Court for the northern district of California ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) violated federal law by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement before deregulating genetically altered sugar beets.

Monsanto developed the biotech beets to be resistant to Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide Roundup, and promotes the sugarbeets as “Roundup Ready.”

The plaintiffs include the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Seeds. The groups filed the lawsuit in January 2008.

About 1.1 million U.S. acres were seeded this year to Roundup Ready sugar beets in the fourth year of commercialized production.

Critics say the Roundup Ready beets are dangerous for the environment because they promote the emergence of “superweeds” or weeds that cannot easily be killed because they also develop a tolerance to weedkiller. They also say that organic and convential beet farmers are damaged because the genetically altered sugar beets are wind-pollinated and inevitably cross-pollinate related crops grown nearby.

The court found that USDA gave only “cursory” consideration to some of these concerns, failing to adequately consider the risks. The court has ordered the USDA to conduct a rigorous assessment of the environmental and economic impacts of the crop on farmers and the environment, and will evaluate other remedies in an October meeting of the parties.

In response to the court ruling, Monsanto defended its product.

“The decision was based on procedure and had nothing to do with questioning the safety or efficacy of Roundup Ready sugar beets,” said Monsanto spokesman Garrett Kasper.

But one of the attorneys representing the consumer and farmer groups who filed the lawsuit said the ruling spoke to the danger of the biotech crop.

“Monsanto is trying to sweep this under the rug,” said Paul Achitoff, a lawyer for the law firm Earthjustice. “The procedure they neglected to follow was to evaluate the impact of the product. The court found they needed to look at the environmental impacts of growing Monsanto’s product and they haven’t done it.” (Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio)

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