Monsanto Wins Reversal of Order to Destroy Sugar Beet Plants

Monsanto Co. and the U.S. Agriculture Department won reversal of a judge’s order to destroy genetically modified sugar beet seedlings planted last year, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled today.

A three-judge panel, ruling in a lawsuit filed by environmental and organic seed groups over sugar beet plants modified to withstand Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, said the groups hadn’t shown that the seedlings were likely to contaminate natural sugar beet plants.

A Nov. 30 order to dig up 256 acres of seedlings has been on hold pending the appeals court review.

Sugar beets, grown on 1.3 million acres in 10 states, provide half the nation’s sugar supply, according to the Sugar Industry Biotech Council. Most sugar beet seed is grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Center for Food Safety, a plaintiff, and organic seed organizations claim wind-blown pollen from the genetically engineered crops will contaminate conventional sugar beets and other closely related plants.

Four seed companies -- American Crystal Sugar Co., Betaseed, Syngenta and SES vanderHave USA -- obtained permits from the Agriculture Department in August for limited planting of the modified seedlings. The permits, which expire Feb. 28, don’t allow the companies to let the plants flower and produce seed, the ruling said.

Paige Tomaselli, a spokeswoman for the Center for Food Safety in San Francisco, didn’t immediately return a voice mail message.

St. Louis-based Monsanto is the world’s largest seed company.

The case is Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, 10-17722, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals San Francisco).

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at kgullo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Pickering at jpickering@bloomberg.net

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