WASHINGTON, Sept 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. Agriculture Department, fresh off a court ruling that banned the planting of genetically-modified sugar beets, said on Wednesday it could take at least two years to complete an environmental review before it would be able to lift planting restrictions.
A federal judge last month banned the planting of genetically modified sugar beets engineered by Monsanto MON.N Co. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled in 2009 that USDA approved Monsanto’s sugar beets without adequate environmental study.
The court’s decision to impose the ban did not apply to crops already planted or harvested. The ban will remain in place until USDA completes a thorough environmental impact analysis of the crop.
USDA said on Wednesday the court’s ruling does not restrict it from issuing permits for planting of young sugar beet plants, or stecklings. The plant is then harvested and put into cold storage before it has had a chance to flower.
The department said it already has received applications and is issuing permits to sugar beet seed producers for these plantings. It expects the process to be completed in two weeks.
The department also is evaluating a request for a partial deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets. Interim regulatory rules, which would remain in place while USDA completes the environmental impact statement, are expected this year.
“The steps we have outlined today not only respond to the concerns of producers while complying with the court’s ruling, but also further USDA’s continuing efforts to enable coexistence among conventional, organic, and biotechnology production systems,” Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
Sugar beets account for over half the U.S. sugar supply. But conventional sugar beet seeds remain widely available and environmentalists filing suit said the judge’s decision should not significantly affect sugar production.
Roundup also is manufactured by Monsanto and was sold to farmers together with the genetically altered sugar beet seeds.
The USDA has been hit with a series of rulings for failing to evaluate biotech crops. Internal government reports also have been critical of how the department has handled biotech crops.
Editing by David Gregorio