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Beet case ruling: Separate issues

FARGO, N.D. -- A San Francisco federal judge has denied environmentalist groups' attempts to attach issues about 2011 Roundup Ready beet production to a separate but related case involving stecklings.

Bright beet picture
A San Francisco federal judge has denied environmentalist groups' attempts to attach issues about 2011 Roundup Ready beet production to a separate but related case involving stecklings. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

FARGO, N.D. -- A San Francisco federal judge has denied environmentalist groups' attempts to attach issues about 2011 Roundup Ready beet production to a separate but related case involving stecklings.

District Judge Jeffrey S. White of San Francisco said Feb. 18 certain legal issues about 2011 planting rules can't be attached to the Sugarbeet II case because they already are included in a separate federal court in Washington, where the sugar industry filed a separate case: Sugarbeet III.

Sugar industry officials declined to be quoted on White's ruling or how it figures into prospects for 2011 planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets for the "root crop," or for commercial production. If the issues are brought up in the Washington court or elsewhere, it may have an effect on the outcome, but also could create logistical delays that would affect 2011 planting.

Upcoming cases

So far, there are now three main sugarbeet cases:

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- Sugarbeets I (Center for Food Policy v. Vilsack, 2008) -- White had overturned the USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets, requiring the agency complete a more comprehensive and lengthy "Environmental Impact Statement." The EIS is under way and expected to be complete in 2012.

- Sugarbeets II (Center for Food Policy v. Vilsack, Sept. 9, 2010) -- Plaintiffs argue USDA on Sept. 1, 2010, improperly used an "Environmental Assessment" to allow the planting of stecklings that fall for future seed production. USDA appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether the end of the stay is Feb. 28. Plaintiffs argue USDA's APHIS incorrectly allowed the planting of beet stecklings, a carrot-like stage of beets that produces beet seed in a normal two-season cycle. The beet industry says the nongovernmental defendants -- Center for Food Safety and The Sierra Club -- through their legal actions, pose a "significant threat to our nation's sugar supply in the 2011 crop year" and could destroy their property.

- Sugarbeets III -- (Grant v. Vilsack, Feb. 7, 2011) in the District of Columbia -- Former defendants in the sugar beet industry who had been defendants in the first two cases now are plaintiffs. Here, sugar interests plaintiffs (including American Crystal Sugar) challenge the conditions the EA imposed on Roundup Ready sugar beet root and seed crop production activities. In that suit, the sugar industry is asking the court to require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to relax compliance conditions on 2011 production, and is asking for a declaratory judgement that says the rules won't change.

Judge's ruling

In his recent ruling, White said:

"Because the Feb. 4, 2011, decision is already the subject of the Sugarbeets III litigation, where presumably the administrative record would be submitted for review by the district court, the interest of judicial economy likely would be better served by presenting Plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief in Sugarbeets III than in this court."

White noted that environmental organizations have described Sugarbeets III as an "example of 'transparent forum shopping,'" but don't contend there are any barriers to justice in the District of Columbia.

Related Topics: CROPS
Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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