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US court revokes approval of GM sugar beets

(15 August 2010) A federal court in the US revoked the approval of GM sugar beets. It states that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had not adequately evaluated possible consequences that commercial cultivation could have on the environment. The ruling will not affect this year’s harvest.

An earlier appeal in September 2009 had already been accepted by the federal court. The judges agreed with several environmental and consumer groups that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had failed to fully consider possible environmental risks of GM sugar beets, especially the risk of out-crossing. However, the court did not order any immediate action and rejected an injunction filed earlier this year. In spring, the same environmental organisations had demanded to prohibit the planting of the engineered seeds but this was regarded as disproportionately disruptive by the court.

Following last week’s hearings, the court now ruled that the approval of the GM sugar beets will be revoked and commercial cultivation banned from 2011 on. The court does not expect severe economic consequences for the affected farmers because they should be able to plant conventional seeds in the next growing season. Furthermore, the judges argued this year’s harvest would not be affected and therefore no sugar supply shortages are thought to occur.

During the hearings, the USDA had admitted mistakes in the approval process. However, they did not regard their mistakes as "serious" and stated that even a more thorough assessment of possible environmental consequences would eventually result in the approval of GM sugar beets.

A USDA spokesperson announced, the authority would review the court order and then consider appropriate measures to take. The biotech company Monsanto, which developed the engineered sugar beets together with the German firm KWS Saat AG and now supplies the US market, has refused to comment the court decision.

The GM sugar beets are resistant to Roundup herbicide, which contains the active agent glyphosate  They were approved for commercial cultivation in 2005. Following the first growing season in 2007, the GM version of the crop is now predominant. In 2010, it accounted for 95 per cent of the US sugar beet acreage (470,000 hectares). Sugar beets cover about half the amount of sugar consumed in the US. Herbicide resistant sugar beets are economically attractive for farmers because they make crop protection cheaper and more effective compared with conventional sugar beets.


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