A federal judge in California Court has ordered the destruction of genetically engineered sugar beets after finding that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had likely violated federal law by allowing the plantation of the stecklings without analyzing the potential environmental impact.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White on Nov. 30 had issued a preliminary injunction ordering the immediate destruction of about 256 acres of genetically engineered sugar beets planted in Oregon and Arizona in September citing that the likely environmental harm established was irreparable.

White had ruled in a lawsuit filed by Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Organic Seeds who had challenged a decision of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) in September to issue permits to four seed companies to plant genetically engineered sugar beet stecklings without analyzing the potential impact on environment.

On March 4 2005, the USDA agreed to deregulate genetically engineered sugar beets pursuant to a petition submitted by Monsanto Company, which owns intellectual property rights in the technology used to produce Roundup Ready sugar beets and KWS SAAT AG, which pursuant to a licensing agreement with Monsanto, inserted the gene for glyphosate tolerance into sugar beets to produce a type of Roundup Ready sugar beets known as Event H7-1.

However, in August 2010, White had presided over a sugar beet case where he banned the sale and planting of the so-called Roundup Ready sugar beets after finding the USDA had not completed a required environmental impact study. Shortly thereafter, in September, the government had issued permits, allowing planting of the genetically engineered sugar beets.

However, resisting the issuance of the permits, the plaintiffs warned that such plantation of such crops could lead to increased use of herbicides, which in turn, could lead to spread of herbicide-resistant weeds across millions of acres and contamination of conventional and organic crops.

According to White, the plaintiffs had shown sufficient evidence that the genetically modified sugar beets could contaminate other crops, even through cross-pollination.

The evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing made clear that, even with the existence of protocols designed to minimize any environmental harm, there is a significant risk that the plantings pursuant to the permits will cause environmental harm, the judge wrote in his order.

Moreover, despite efforts made by the government and seed companies to implement effective protocols and to minimize any contamination or cross-pollination, there are examples of where such efforts were ineffective, either because the conditions were later determined to be insufficient or the conditions were not followed. In other instances, the causes of the contamination were never discovered.

These incidents are too numerous for this Court to declare confidently that these permits provide sufficient containment to protect the environment, the judge said.

The judge also dismissed the argument of the defendants that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that actual harm has occurred by the issuance of the permits because the defendants themselves had failed to conduct an environmental evaluation prior to issuing these permits.

Ordering the destruction of the beets, the judge said any harm to the defendants, including the seed companies, is only of their own doing.

Due to their preemptive conduct, the stecklings have been planted pursuant to the permits at issue and they have created a significant risk of environmental harm, White's order said.

The judge also refused to issue a stay on the injunction pending appeal because the defendants had failed to make a strong showing they are likely to succeed on the merits, that they will be irreparably injured absent a stay, or that the public interest would be served by a stay.

However, the judge has delayed implementation of the order until 10.00 am on December 6 to give the federal government and other defendants time to appeal.