Beet Down: Court Orders Monsanto Sugar Beets to Be Destroyed

sugar beets

The world of genetically modified agriculture has become so contentious that a judge ordered Monsanto seedlings to be removed from the soil this week. U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White issued the ruling after Monsanto ignored his August ruling, which deemed the planting and sale of the company's "Roundup Ready" sugar beets illegal, due to insufficient environmental review from the USDA.

In the earlier case, consumer group Earthjustice claimed that the USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it gave the go-ahead to Monsanto sugar beets in 2005 without preparing an Environmental Impact Statement. After White declared the sugar beets illegal, the USDA rushed out permits allowing companies to produce seeds for future Monsanto sugar beet crops--despite the fact that the crops themselves still had not been reviewed. The USDA defended itself in the latest case by arguing that seedlings have no environmental impact because they are separate from the sugar beet crop cycle.

The Seed Alliance explains:

The court outlined the many ways in which GE [Genetically Engineered] sugar beets could harm the environment and consumers, noting that containment efforts were insufficient and past contamination incidents were "too numerous" to allow the illegal crop to remain in the ground. Judge White noted "farmers and consumers would likely suffer harm from cross-contamination" between GE sugar beets and non-GE crops. He continued, "the legality of Defendants’ conduct does not even appear to be a close question," noting that the government and Monsanto tried to circumvent his prior ruling, which made GE sugar beets illegal.

It's no surprise that the seed giant tried an end run around the court's ruling. Monsanto has said that a lack of USDA approval on this crop would cost the company $2 billion over the next two years. Keep in mind that 50 percent of the U.S. sugar supply comes from sugar beets, and approximately 90 percent of sugar beets are genetically engineered, according to the Organic Consumers Association. Monsanto's GM sugar beets didn't even exist six years ago.

Monsanto will undoubtedly try to gain approval for its sugar beets in the future, but perhaps this incident can serve as a lesson in humility to the company--and as a reminder to consumers that Monsanto has radically altered our food system.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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