After the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it had begun issuing permits to sugar beet seed producers to plant genetically modified (GM) crops this fall, the Center for Food Safety and a number of other groups filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the action. When Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the agency’s “next steps” as to Roundup Ready® sugar beets, he acknowledged the August 2010 federal court ruling that returned GM sugar beets to regulated status until the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) can complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) about the effects of deregulating the crop.  

According to APHIS, producers who have applied for the permits will be allowed to plant GM seedlings immediately but must not allow them to flower, and the agency will make decisions about interim regulatory measures by the end of the year on the seed producer’s request to partially deregulate the crop, noting that completion of the EIS will take about two years. The Center for Food Safety contends that this action violates the court’s ruling. The organization’s executive director was quoted as saying, “The Court has already found that the approval of this engineered crop was illegal. Rather than complying with the court’s order, the USDA is once again acting as a rogue agency in illegally allowing these crops to be planted without the required hard look at their environmental dangers.”

Among those alleged dangers are increased use of herbicides and accelerated development of herbicide-resistant “super weeds.” According to a Center for Food Safety press release, “Although APHIS claims the permits do not allow the crop to flower and spread pollen, the seed crop is expressly intended to flower and create seed next summer. [Environmental laws require] APHIS to first examine the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the seed crop together with the impacts of the rest of the sugar beet production cycle the seed crop is intended to facilitate.”  

The plaintiffs have asked a federal district court in California to issue a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to stop the agency from issuing the permits and any planting allowed by them. See USDA News Release, September 1, 2010; Center for Food Safety Press Release, September 9, 2010.