Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Date for biotech arguments

Judge sets date for biotech arguments
By Mateusz Perkowski
Capital Press
August 25, 2011

A federal judge has split the difference between biotech critics and the sugar beet industry in a dispute over scheduling a lawsuit.

Though the recent order relates to procedural steps, it may have consequences for the planting of transgenic sugar beets next year.

U.S. District Judge John Bates in Washington, D.C., has ordered the two sides to finish submitting court briefs by Jan. 6 — later than recommended by biotech critics but earlier than preferred by the industry.

Once those documents are submitted, the judge may hold oral arguments in the case before deciding whether the USDA violated environmental law by partially deregulating the transgenic crop earlier this year.

It’s unknown how soon that decision would come down after arguments conclude, said Nancy Bryson, an attorney for Syngenta, a biotech developer involved in the lawsuit.

“You can never predict when a district court is going to rule,” Bryson said, adding that she’s satisfied with the judge’s briefing schedule.

The Center for Food Safety, which sued the USDA to block the partial deregulation of glyphosate-resistant Roundup Ready sugar beets, had argued for an expedited schedule for submitted court documents.

The group claimed the sugar beet industry was stalling the litigation to ensure sugar beet seedlings, or stecklings, are in the ground early next year. Stecklings are usually transplanted from greenhouses in January and February.

The Center for Food Safety alleges that sugar beet companies want to delay any court decision about the legality of partial deregulation — making it easier to claim that destroying the already-planted stecklings would be inequitable.

Paul Achitoff, an attorney representing the group, characterized the legal strategy as “get it in the ground, then argue it should stay in the ground.”

Achitoff said the group may still seek relief that would prevent planting but said he couldn’t talk about specific legal motions.

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