A federal judge in California is questioning why plaintiffs in a lawsuit involving Roundup Ready sugar beets assumed his order that stecklings be “removed from the ground” meant the seedlings should be destroyed.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White also stated that his ability to issue any further rulings on the sugar beet case is not clear because he needs to see how the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handles an appeal of his ruling.
Tuesday, White ordered that approximately 256 acres of Roundup Ready sugar-beet stecklings, or seedlings, should be removed from the ground because USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service had violated proper protocols for biotechnology oversight and had created “a risk of environmental harm.” That ruling prompted the lead plaintiffs, the Center for Food Safety, to declare that White ruled the stecklings should be “destroyed.”
“I would say the court could not have been clearer in its intent that the sugar beets in question should be destroyed,” said George Kimbrell, senior staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety, on Wednesday.
Kimbrell’s statement came after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that White’s ruling didn’t specify that the stecklings must be destroyed, only removed from the ground.
Four companies involved in producing Roundup Ready sugar beets — Monsanto Co., American Crystal Sugar co., Syngenta Seeds Inc. and Betaseed Inc. — immediately filed an appeal of White’s ruling.
Late Thursday, White issued a follow-up “Order Requiring Supplemental Explanation” seeking clarification from the Center for Food Safety, asking exactly where in the court record the plaintiffs specifically request the destruction of the stecklings.
Along with that, White questioned whether he has authority to force an additional sugar beet seed company not included in the original lawsuit, SESVanderHave USA, to comply with his order, as the plantiffs request.
“If there is no authority on point, plaintiffs shall explain how this injunction would be enforced with respect to the stecklings planted under SESVanderHave USA Inc.’s permit,” White stated.
After White’s ruling that the USDA permits for the stecklings violated the law, the Center for Food Safety and other plaintiffs had earlier Thursday filed for a preliminary injunction from White. Specifically, the groups requested that next Tuesday the companies and employees for American Crystal, Betaseed Inc, Syngenta Seeds and SESVanderHave USA “shall begin the destruction of all of the stecklings that are the subject of this lawsuit.”
Further, the plaintiffs wanted to ensure USDA also take action to ensure any other entities with stecklings involved in the permit process also be destroyed. The plaintiffs wanted the crop destroyed by spraying the stecklings with 2, 4-D.
“It is the intent of this Court that the stecklings be destroyed as promptly as possible, and that the stecklings not be stored for later disposal, or that destruction be delayed,” the plaintiffs stated in their proposed injunction.
The Center for Food Safety filed the original suit, arguing USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act by deregulating biotech sugar beets without conducting a proper environmental impact statement. Yet, between the time USDA deregulated the crop and actual court action, farmers adopted Round Ready sugar beets at such a rate that 95 percent of the 1.185 million or so acres of sugar beets planted in 2010 were the Roundup variety.
The legal battle over Roundup Ready sugar beets doesn’t affect the 2010 crop harvested earlier this fall, but has raised a lot of questions about the ability to plant Roundup Ready sugar beets next spring.
Chris Clayton can be reached at email@example.com
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