Federal judge orders destruction of genetically-engineered crop

[JURIST] A federal judge on Tuesday ordered [judgment, PDF] the destruction of a crop of genetically-engineered (GE) sugar beets because of the potential harmful effect the plants may have on surrounding flora, the first such order to be issued in the US. The suit was filed in September by Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety [advocacy websites] on behalf of a coalition of farmers, consumers,and conservation groups after the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) [official website] revealed that it allowed the crop to be planted without the environmental review required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) [EPA materials]. Judge Jeffrey White of the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] held that allowing the crop to stay in the ground would cause irreparable harm due to insufficient containment and cross-contamination. The sugar beets in question are one of several "Round-up Ready" crops genetically-engineered by Monsanto [official website] to be resistant to herbicide. The creation of these crops has lead to greater use of herbicide [press release] and the creation of herbicide-resistant weeds through cross-contamination. Addressing this issue, White noted that "farmers and consumers would likely suffer harm from cross-contamination" between GE sugar beets and non-GE crops, and, therefore, injunctive relief was required. White delayed implementation of the order until December 7 to allow time for an appeal.

Monsanto escaped an injunction [JURIST report] in a similar case decided in June by the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive]. The case arose over an injunction against the planting of Monsanto's "Roundup Ready alfalfa," pending an environmental impact statement (EIS) under NEPA. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had held [opinion, PDF] that NEPA plaintiffs are specially exempt from the requirement of showing a likelihood of irreparable harm to obtain an injunction, affirming the nationwide injunction. Justice Samuel Alito, writing the opinion of the court, reversed the circuit court's ruling, stating that NEPA violations, absent unusual circumstances, are not exempt from the standard four-factor test to determine the availability of injunctive relief. The test requires the plaintiff has suffered an irreparable injury, adequate alternative remedies are not available, a remedy of equity is warranted and it serves the public interest. Alito concluded that the respondent plaintiffs were unable to show that a partial deregulation would pose any appreciable risk of environmental harm if the scope of the regulation is sufficiently limited.

 

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