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Roundup Ready Beet Suit Transferred to D.C. Docket

(CN) - A judge in Washington, D.C., will have the next say in the ongoing legal saga over genetically modified sugar beets, the Northern District of California ruled.

The Sierra Club and Center for Food Safety filed the federal complaint last month in San Francisco, challenging the government's decision to allow planting of "Roundup ready" sugar beets. Monsanto Corp. modified genes in these beets to resist Roundup, a pesticide containing glyphosate that the company developed.

The groups claimed that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, issued faulty environmental findings.

On March 17, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that the Sierra Club retains standing and demonstrated injury since deregulation of the beets would prevent its members across the nation from being able to distinguish between genetically modified sugar and unmodified sugar.

The government defendants had asked White to dismiss the case, or alternatively transfer it to Washington, D.C., where they are already dealing with more or less the same issues of administrative record with a suit filed by sugar beet growers, seed producers and trade associations in February.

Though the Sierra Club's is based in San Francisco, there are few other factors tying the case to California - a state that currently bans planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets, White noted.

Both courts have crowded dockets, and both are familiar with the laws involved, according to the ruling. But since the administrative process occurred as a result of agency machinations in Washington, it would be best to transfer the case there, White decided.

Transferring the case to Washington where it can be decided along with the industry case "would better serve the efficient and expeditious administration of justice," the judge wrote.

In addition to the case filed in Washington, which claims that terminating the beet plantings could pose a threat to the nation's sugar supply, there are several other complaints connected to the controversial root vegetable.

An appeal is currently pending in the 9th Circuit after a San Francisco federal judge partially vacated the government's deregulation of the genetically engineered beets in August 2010 following an earlier suit from the Sierra Club and Center for Food Safety.

Yet another suit by the same groups is also pending in the Northern District of California upon remand from the 9th Circuit on Feb. 25. The federal appeals panel had vacated a federal judge's decision to enjoin the issuance of permits to plant the crops. That case is likely to be declared moot, as the permits expired at the end of that month.

Growing genetically engineered beets would be allowed in 11 states, and permits have already been issued for seven.

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