David vs. Goliath
Center for Food Safety, et al. v. Thomas J. Vilsack, et al.
In an ongoing David versus Goliath legal battle, Frank Morton, an organic seed breeder in Philomath, Oregon, along with the plaintiffs listed in this lawsuit, have successfully sued the USDA and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), for failure to require an environmental impact statement (EIS) prior to deregulation of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beet plant.
In the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Jeffrey S. White ruled on September 21, 2009 in favor of the plaintiffs— Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Organic Seeds— requiring that APHIS prepare an environmental impact statement, and setting in place the remedy phase of the trial, scheduled to begin today (December 4) to decide the fate of next year’s transgenic sugar beet crop.
This interview took place Summer 2009 prior to Judge White’s September ruling in favor of Frank Morton, and the other plaintiffs.
This ruling marks a resounding renunciation of the USDA/APHIS 2005 decision to deregulate and thus allow the unrestricted commercial development of “Event H7-1”, a Glyphosate tolerant sugar beet engineered by Monsanto and the German company KWS. Deregulation opened the door for transgenic sugar beet production in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world. The judge ordered that an environmental impact statement be conducted because USDA/APHIS failed to adequately consider the impact on the environment from stated cross contamination concerns, and the socio-economic impacts on consumers (eaters), farmers, and other market participants over the question of the continued availability of non-transgenic sugar beet crops.
In 2006, most of the sugar beet production was from conventional seeds but the Roundup Ready transgenic variety increased sharply in 2008 to about 60% of production, and rose again this year to estimates as high as 95% of the total U.S. market. The United States is among the largest producers of sugar, more than half comes from the production of sugar beets. Most of the U.S. sugar beet seed is produced in the Willamette Valley, where between 3000-5000 acres of sugar beet seeds are grown each year. The sugar beet plants grown from these seeds occupy areas of the western and mid-west regions of the country; the largest concentrations of (harvested) acres are in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Michigan.
From Frank Morton’s perspective, his livelihood depends upon the ability to produce organic seeds that are not contaminated with transgenic genes spread from neighboring GMO related species of plants. In the Willamette Valley, an elaborate, but voluntary system exists to coordinate the growing of a diversity of crops to prevent the accidental cross-pollination and contamination that can occur naturally between related species. In the case of sugar beets, Morton’s Swiss Chard organic seed is commercially threatened by neighboring GMO sugar beet plants; the tiniest of contamination if it were to occur, would prevent him from selling his Swiss Chard organic seeds to his customers here and abroad. In addition, the introduction of any GMO crops into the ecologically unique Willamette Valley without a thorough environmental impact study sets a dangerous new precedent for more unregulated transgenic crops to follow.
Monsanto has recently decided to appeal to the U.S. Supreme court an earlier decision that forced the company to remove its GMO Alfalfa from the market (except under very limited conditions), pending the completion of an environmental impact statement. The alfalfa decision, in part, helped establish the precedent for the judge’s ruling in this Roundup Ready sugar beet case.
- Organic grower inspires beet lawsuit (link no longer available)
- Monsanto Loss Hurts Farmers (link no longer available)
- The GMO sugar beet (link no longer available)
- USDA Proposes Further De-regulation of GMOs (August 2007)
- Non-GMO beet seed available (link no longer available)
- Biotechnology, the Media, and Public Policy (American Enterprise Institute) (link no longer available)
- The Dirty Little Secret of Organic Seeds
- Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research (NYT)
- Monsanto asks Supreme Court to review alfalfa ban (link no longer available)
Check out the links below, for those interested in the Frank Morton series:
- Seeds of Life: David Vs. Goliath (published: 12-2009)
- Seeds of Life: Beta Vulgaris (12-2009)
- Seeds of Life: The Organic Seed Breeder (3-2010)
- Seeds Of Life: Hybrids and the Emergence of Seed Monopolies (3-2010)
- Seeds Of Life: Open Pollination (6-2010)
- Seeds of Life: Consolidation in the Seed Industry (7-2010)