UPDATE 3-US judge bans planting of genetically engineered beets

* Sugar beets account for half of nation’s sugar supply

* Judge found that USDA improperly approved planting

* Environmentalists sued over Monsanto’s sugar beets
(Adds USDA comment, paragraph 9)

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 13 (BestGrowthStock) – A federal judge on Friday
banned the planting of genetically modified sugar beets
engineered by Monsanto Co (MON.N: ) in a ruling that marks a
major setback for the biotech giant.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled in 2009 that the
U.S. Department of Agriculture had approved Monsanto’s
genetically modified sugar beets without adequate environmental
study.

Sugar beets account for over half of the nation’s sugar
supply. But conventional sugar beet seeds remain widely
available and environmentalists filing suit said the judge’s
decision should not significantly affect sugar production.

White’s decision on Friday to impose the ban did not apply
to crops already planted or harvested. It stems from a lawsuit
brought by environmentalists over Monsanto sugar beets
engineered to be resistant to the weed-killer Roundup.

Roundup is also manufactured by Monsanto and was sold to
farmers together with the genetically altered sugar beet
seeds.

“It’s a victory for farmers, for the environment and for
the public,” said George Kimbrell, a senior staff attorney for
the Center for Food Safety, plaintiffs in the case.

Environmentalists have argued that the “Roundup Ready”
crops have increased the use of herbicides and herbicide-
resistant weeds.

Monsanto has claimed in court papers that revoking the
government’s approval of its genetically modified seed could
cost the company and its customers some $2 billion in 2011 and
2012.

Agriculture Department spokesperson Caleb Weaver said the
USDA was reviewing the judge’s order “to determine appropriate
next steps.”

FULL IMPLICATIONS UNKNOWN

A Monsanto representative referred reporters to Duane
Grant, an Idaho sugar beet farmer and chairman of the Snake
River Sugar cooperative.

“Before planting next spring’s 2011 crop, clearly we are
going to have to understand all of the implications of the
judge’s ruling, and what might be open to us,” Grant said.

He said that since White’s decision did not apply to sugar
beets already planted or harvested, “really there is no
immediate impact on sugar availability or cost to the
consumer.”

Sugar beets make up a little over half of the U.S. sugar
crop, and 95 percent of sugar beets come from Roundup ready
seed, Grant said.

The Center for Food Safety has countered that farmers can
easily go back to using conventional sugar beet seeds, which
were widely used as recently as two years ago.

Most U.S. sugar beets are planted in March, April and May,
he said.

The government has valued the sugar beet crop, which is
largely grown in 11 states, the bulk of them in the Midwest, at
$1.335 billion for 2007-2008.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a separate federal
judge’s ruling revoking the USDA’s approval of Monsanto’s
genetically modified alfalfa until a full environmental review
was completed.
(Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman
in Los Angeles and Tom Doggett in Washington; Editing by Peter
Cooney)

UPDATE 3-US judge bans planting of genetically engineered beets