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USDA is sued over permits for genetically altered sugar beets

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A group of farmers and environmentalist organizations sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday, challenging the agency’s recent decision to allow some operators to plant genetically altered sugar beet seeds.

The complaint (which can be read here) alleges that the federal agency’s decision goes against a recent court ruling that banned farmers from planting GMO sugar beets that had been engineered by agribusiness giant Monsanto Co., and designed to be resistant to the weed-killer Roundup.

In 2009, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in the Northern District of California ruled that the USDA had failed in its obligation to have a thorough environmental study completed before approving Monsanto’s GMO sugar beet seeds.

In August, White revoked governmental approval of the crop, which accounts for about half of the nation’s sugar production. White’s decision did not apply to sugar beets already growing in the ground before Aug. 13, which allowed the current crop to be harvested and seeds culled.

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On Sept. 1, though, the USDA announced it would issue out permits to farmers that would allow them to plant the beets, as long as the plants didn’t flower.

That triggered Thursday’s lawsuit, according to the federal complaint filed in the Northern District of California.

The plaintiffs, which include the Sierra Club and the advocacy group Center for Food Safety, allege that these USDA-permitted plantings could contaminate nearby fields. They’re asking the judge to bar all plantings of any GMO sugar beets.

USDA officials could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

-- P.J. Huffstutter


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