Court Posed To Consider Remedy In GM Sugar Beets Case

scale_of_justiceOn September 28, 2010, the Federal Court of the Northern District Court of California issued a ruling holding that Plaintiffs Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club were likely to succeed on claims that the United States Department of Agriculture’s (“USDA”) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (“APHIS”) illegally permitted the planting of genetically engineered (“GE”) sugar beets. A hearing set for October 22, 2010 will determine the appropriate remedy in the case, namely, whether further planting of GE sugar beet seedlings should be banned and whether the Court should order the removal of those seedlings already planted.

Plaintiffs, represented by Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety, filed a lawsuit on on September 9, 2010, challenging APHIS’ decision to issue permits to four seed companies to plant stecklings of GE sugar beets. Plaintiffs argued that APHIS’ decision to issue these permits without conducting any environmental review violates federal statutes, including, National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4335 (“NEPA”), the Plant Protection Act, the 2008 Farm Bill, and the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). (See Order Pending Regarding motions, p 2).

Shortly after Plaintiffs filed their complaint, Betaseed, Inc., Monsanto Company, and Syngenta Seeds, Inc. asked the Court’s permission to join the case.

APHIS and seed companies, however, did not find themselves in good graces with the Court.  The Court rejected APHIS’ argument that the agency’s conduct fell within an excluded category of actions which does not require an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) or an Environmental Assessment and found that Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their merits.

The agency’s and seed companies’ arguments that APHIS made information about the permits publicly available on APHIS’ website also stirred judicial indignation.  In response to this argument the Court firmly ordered that “APHIS shall state under penalty of perjury exactly when and where it made the information public that the permits had been granted. Moreover, APHIS shall describe exactly what information was publicly disclosed.”  The Court also chided the agency for submitting briefs with only conclusory arguments.

The Court’s reaction is was more than justified because just recently, in another but similar case, it found that APHIS violated NEPA when it failed to conduct an environmental review before it deregulated GE sugar beets.  The same agency, a violation of the same laws, the same court and the same crop. Point well made, Your Honor.

In the previous case, the Court’s ruling on August 13, 2010 vacated the decision by APHIS to deregulate GE sugar beets without first conducting a full environmental review, as is required by federal law. The August 13 decision also denied APHIS’ request to stay the Court’s decision by nine months to provide APHIS time to consider interim measures regarding the GE sugar beets pending the full environmental review. The Court found that the agency had more than sufficient time to implement interim measures but that it “but failed to act expediently.”

Less than three weeks later, on September 1, 2010, APHIS announced its charted course of action in response to the August 13 ruling and began receiving applications and issuing permits to sugar beet seed producers to authorize ‘steckling’ (i.e. seedlings) production this fall. (See Order Pending Regarding Motions, p. 10-11).

The Plaintiff’s September 9th complaint was in response to the agency’s decision to issue permits for steckling production.