Shortly after US Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) decided to completely deregulate genetically engineered (“GE”) alfalfa, consumers and the organic movement faced another set back. This Friday USDA announced that it will allow the planting of Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” GE sugar beets even though the agency has yet to finalize conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (”EIS”). The Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club, a coalition of farmers and conservation groups that has been legally challenging the agency’s deregulation decision since 2008, announced that they will go back to court to test the legitimacy of the agency’s recent decision.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff, one of the attorneys for the coalition group, commented:
The lax conditions on growing the GE sugar beets in today’s approval are not materially different from those earlier rejected by the federal court as inadequate to protect other farmers, the public, and the environment. USDA has yet again violated the law requiring preparation of an EIS before unleashing this genetically engineered crop.
An attorney for Center Food Safety also said that a legal intervention was necessary because “USDA continues to bow to industry pressure and permits further commercial production of Roundup Ready sugar beets, without first preparing an EIS or protecting the public.”
Since 2008, when the coalition group filed a lawsuit challenging USDA’s decision to deregulate GE sugar beets without conducting an EIS, the agency has conducted itself rather embarrassingly. Not long after a District Court judge vacated the agency’s deregulation decision on August 13, 2010, the agency tried to get around the judge’s ruling by issuing permits to four seed companies to plant stecklings of GE sugar beets, forcing the the coalition group to go back to court challenging the agency’s conduct. The Court ruled in favor of the coalition group on November 30, 2010, finding that the agency’s decision to issue the permits was an unlawful attempt to “avoid the impact of the Court’s prior order” in which the Court found that USDA violated federal law when the agency deregulated the crops resulting in the court vacating the agency’s deregulation determination. As a result of such conduct, the Court issued a preliminary injunction on Nov. 30 and directed the removal of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seedlings. The implementation of that order was put on hold pending an appeal.
USDA has often been referred to as a “rogue” agency for favoring, in ways found at times to be unlawful, industry interests over those of consumers and the environment.