Friday, July 20, 2012

Beet restrictions lifted

GM sugar beet restrictions lifted; litigation in limbo
By Mateusz Perkowski
Capital Press
July 20, 2012

Restrictions on growing genetically engineered sugar beets have been lifted by USDA, but legal wrangling over the crop doesn’t appear likely to cease soon.

The USDA’s decision to fully deregulate the crop has thrown into question an existing lawsuit over agency regulations and may lead to further litigation.

On July 20, the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service entered a final record of decision that transgenic sugar beets resistant to glyphosate herbicides are ”no longer subject to our regulations.”

The crop’s full commercialization has raised the question whether an existing lawsuit over partial deregulation is moot.

Farmers who planted transgenic sugar beets had to operate under several restrictions since early 2011, when USDA announced a partial deregulation of the crop.

Growers were subject to geographic limitations on where the crop could be cultivated, as well as training, field monitoring, record-keeping and transport requirements.

The sugar beet industry filed suit against USDA over the restrictions, claiming they were unnecessarily strict. The Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit biotech critic group, claimed they were overly lenient and unlawful.

The restrictions have expired with full deregulation, but it’s unclear whether they will remain free of legal controversy in the future.

If the full deregulation is challenged in court and overturned by a judge, then the USDA could resurrect the partial deregulation measures, according to a court filing by sugar beet companies and biotech developers.

The document said that in light of previous litigation, ”it appears certain that the Center for Food Safety and related plaintiffs … intend now to challenge the validity of APHIS’ new unconditional deregulation determination.”

The document requests that biotech critics disclose whether they plan to pursue further litigation, which would shed light on whether the case is actually moot or whether it should just be postponed.

The sugar beet and biotech companies also propose further legal briefing over the case’s status.

Capital Press was unable to reach the Center for Food Safety as of press time, but the group is expected to submit its own suggestions for the lawsuit imminently.

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