The Center for Food Safety has returned to a federal court in California charging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) with violations of the law in partially deregulating genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets. Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, No. 11-0831 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., filed February 23, 2011). Details about the agency’s action are included in Issue 381 of this Update.

Seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, the group and several other organizations concerned about the safety of GE crops and their alleged potential to contaminate conventional and organic crops, challenge the February 4, 2011, APHIS decision to approve an environmental assessment prepared in connection with the agency’s decision to issue an interim partial deregulation of Roundup Ready® sugar beets. According to the complaint, “The partial deregulation decision purports to allow planting and use of [GE sugar beets] pending the completion by APHIS of an Environmental Impact Statement (‘EIS’). This interim partial deregulation decision will authorize permits for the continued commercial production of [GE sugar beet] seed and the commercial planting and production of [GE sugar beet] root crops in 2011.”

The complaint recites the history of the litigation that led a district court to order APHIS to complete an EIS before deregulating GE sugar beets and to order the destruction in December 2010 of GE sugar beet seedlings that APHIS had summarily allowed to be planted before completion of the EIS, anticipated to occur sometime in 2012. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which conducted a February 15 oral argument on the government’s appeal, stayed the lower court’s order to destroy the seedlings pending the appeal’s outcome. The plaintiffs contend that APHIS has failed to comply with a number of laws requiring it to assess environmental, economic and human health effects before deregulating a plant pest and that the agency’s decision “completes the remainder of APHIS’s interim commercialization plan for [GE sugar beets] during the pendency of the . . . EIS.”

Among other matters, the plaintiffs seek a court order enjoining APHIS from allowing any GE sugar beets to be planted before it complies with the National Environmental Policy Act, Plant Protection Act and Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008.