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Sugar Beets Get Reprieve From Destruction

(CN) - The 9th Circuit vacated a preliminary injunction ordering the destruction of genetically modified sugar beets, finding that environmental and organic-farming groups had failed to show that they would be harmed by the weed-resistant crops.

"Biology, geography, field experience, and permit restrictions make irreparable injury unlikely," the three-judge panel ruled from San Francisco on Friday.

The Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club, the Organic Seed Alliance and others sought the restraining order after the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a permit for the seeds last summer. The groups argued that the modified seeds could harm other crops and that they had not been subjected to a proper environmental review. A California District Court issued a preliminary injunction and ordered the destruction of the crops in late 2010.

Reversing that decision on Friday, the panel found that the plaintiffs had presented little evidence that genetic contamination was likely.

"Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that the permitted ... plants present a possibility, much less a likelihood, of genetic contamination or other irreparable harm," Judge Sidney Thomas wrote for the panel. "The undisputed evidence indicates that the [beets] pose a negligible risk."

Thomas added that the "record reveals no examples of contamination by pollination under the restricted conditions imposed by the permits."

Defendant-intervenor Monsanto Co., which created the modified beets, says they reduce the impact of weeds, leading to higher crop yields and more sugar content.

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