* USDA draft plan favors growing GMO beets again next year
* US sugar production could fall 20 pct without approval
* Will take comments for 30 days
* Environmentalists likely to challenge plan
By Russell Blinch
WASHINGTON, Nov 2 The U.S. Department of
Agriculture issued a draft proposal on Tuesday to again allow
farmers to grow Monsanto Co's (MON.N) genetically modified
sugar beets, which are fiercely opposed by environmentalists.
A U.S. district court in California has ruled that the
sugar beets cannot be produced until the USDA issues a full
environmental impact study, which the department does not
expect to complete until May 2012.
USDA said under its new draft environmental assessment, it
is considering three options.
Its preferred choice is to allow Monsanto beets back in the
fields by next year under a permit subject to conditions "to
prevent any potential plant pest risks."
"We are issuing this environmental assessment to share our
decision-making process as transparently as possible and allow
for public comment," said Michael Gregoire, deputy
administrator of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Allowing cultivation of Monsanto's beets, and those by KWS
SAAT AG (KWSG.DE), is a priority for USDA because U.S. sugar
output could be cut by as much as 20 percent if cultivation is
blocked, according to USDA court documents.
The draft assessment will be subject to public comment for
30 days before the department issues its final decision on the
The USDA gave the green light in 2005 to Monsanto's GMO
beets, which are modified to tolerate the company's Roundup
The decision touched off the court battle, which began when
the Center for Food Safety and other groups challenged the USDA
ruling in the courts beginning in 2008.
"Similar Roundup Ready crops have led to increased use of
herbicides, proliferation of herbicide resistant weeds, and
contamination of conventional and organic crops," the
non-profit organization said on its Web site.
The organization is expected to quickly challenge any new
USDA ruling that would allow the GM beets back into
(Editing by Walter Bagley)