* Court on Tuesday ordered beet seedlings uprooted
By Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co (MON.N) said on Wednesday it would appeal a U.S. court order that the company’s biotech sugarbeet seedlings be uprooted.
The “secklings” planted by U.S. farmers are aimed at developing seed for a future crop, are harmless, and removing them will be costly for producers, said Monsanto, the world’s biggest seed company.
“The issues that will be appealed are important to all U.S. farmers who choose to plant biotech crops,” Monsanto attorney David Snively said. “We will spare no effort in challenging this ruling on the basis of flawed legal procedure and lack of consideration of important evidence.”
U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White on Tuesday sided with environmentalists in ruling that recent plantings of “Roundup Ready” biotech sugarbeet seedlings violated the court’s ban against planting the biotech beets, and said the seedlings “shall be removed from the ground”.
White issued the ban in August after finding the U.S. Department of Agriculture illegally approved the genetically altered crop technology five years ago without conducting a required environmental impact review.
But shortly after the ruling, the USDA issued permits allowing companies to plant seedlings to produce seed for future GMO sugarbeet crops.
Earthjustice, a consumer group that brought the case against the USDA and had asked the judge to order the young plants be destroyed, said the action was the first court-ordered destruction of a GMO crop.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said the plaintiffs were confident that the judge’s ruling would be upheld.
Sugarbeets account for more than half the U.S. sugar supply. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready beets have been popular with farmers as they can withstand sprayings of the chemical herbicide Roundup, making weed management easier.
Environmentalists say widespread use of the crop leads to increased use of herbicides, proliferation of herbicide-resistant weeds, and contamination of conventional and organic crops.
Monsanto, which owns intellectual property rights to the sugarbeet technology, has intervened in the case with limited standing. The chief defendant is the USDA.
Monsanto said on Wednesday that more than 1 million acres of Roundup Ready sugarbeet varieties had been planted in 10 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.
Roughly 95 percent of the 2010 sugarbeet acreage in North America was safely planted with Roundup Ready varieties, Monsanto said. The technology reduces applications of pesticides and increases farm productivity, it said.
USDA officials said the department was in discussions with the Department of Justice and exploring all options regarding the case.
Earlier this month, the USDA issued a draft proposal for handling of the GMO beets. It said it was considering allowing Monsanto beets back in the fields by next year under a permit subject to conditions “to prevent any potential plant pest risks”.
Plaintiffs in the case include the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Sierra Club. (Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Dale Hudson)