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9th Circuit grants beet industry temporary relief

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay that keeps sugar beet root stocks that will produce seed-bearing plants from being destroyed.

The stay “preserves the potential for these plants to produce seed for the 2012 crop” assuming the government authorizes the root crop to be planted, said Nancy Bryson, who chairs the Holland & Hart law firm’s agriculture group and represents one of the seed companies in the lawsuit. The stay was issued Dec. 6.

“That’s the seed for our 2012 commercial crop,” said Mark Duffin, who heads the Idaho Sugar Beet Growers Association. The beet industry needs seed crop for future beet crops, and the recent stay involves the part of the seed crop planted most recently, he said.

He said the sugar beet industry supports APHIS’ proposal for temporary permits to plant both seed and commercial sugar beets until the agency completes its environmental study, likely in mid-2012. The seeds are planted in the fall, grow in the spring after dormancy, and are the next fall for planting the following spring.

After the Agricultural Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in 2005 deregulated genetically engineered beets, nearly 95 percent of the U.S. crop and the entire Idaho crop uses them. A group led by the Center for Food Safety sued, arguing genetic traits could spread to other plants and harm the food supply.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in August ruled the genetically engineered beet seed crop for 2011 could be harvested, processed and stored while APHIS conducts environmental reviews. He ruled seed planted before the ruling could be harvested and stored to be ready for the 2012 beet crop. Some of the herbicide-ready seed crop was planted in September under APHIS permits, which the Center for Food Safety contested. White recently ordered that crop destroyed, but the 9th Circuit stayed that ruling.

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