On February 28, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced a $5.50 increase in the price election from its initial December announcement of $41.50 ($43.75 in California), to $47.00 per ton for all growing areas. Beet growers deeply appreciate RMA’s review and consideration of more-recent marketing data from our cooperatives that clearly justified an increase.
A very special thanks to John Doxie, president of United Sugars Corporation, for joining ASGA President Mauch and Vice President Erickson to personally meet with RMA Administrator William Murphy and his associate administrator, Barbara Leach, along with key members of the Kansas City RMA staff, to the update them on the unique dynamics in the current sugar market.
We are in a rapidly changing legal and business environment, so what I am outlining for you in this article is the state of play as of March 1.
On February 4, 2011, USDA-APHIS issued a massive 369-page Environmental Assessment (EA) and a Determination Decision that authorized planting of Roundup Ready sugarbeets (RRSB). APHIS’ decision included mandatory interim measures for planting RRSB crops, including the spring 2011 crop, while APHIS prepares a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on RRSB, which is expected to be completed by May of 2012.
USDA is now allowing Roundup Ready sugarbeets to be planted, with a number of conditions for the root crop. The RRSB seed crop to be planted in 2011 (to produce seed for the 2012 root crop) in the Willamette Valley in Oregon can be planted under APHIS restrictive permits implementing 18 mandatory conditions.
But wait. While USDA has given the industry a path forward for 2011, activist groups have again attempted to derail the process by seeking to amend their case involving sugarbeet stecklings. They asked Judge White in San Francisco to enter a temporary restraining order and injunction to bar Roundup Ready sugarbeet crops in 2011.
On February 18, Judge White denied plaintiffs’ motion to amend the complaint, finding that the new claims are not related to the old claims and, instead, are based on an entirely new record that the court has never reviewed. Judge White also noted that the interests of judicial economy would best be served if plaintiffs’ requests for injunctive relief were heard in the Grant case that we have filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
The Grant case has been filed by the beet sugar industry against the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club, and USDA. Grower leaders and our staff want to be very clear that the sugarbeet industry deeply appreciates Secretary Vilsack’s leadership and USDA’s thorough scientific review reflected in this partial deregulation of Roundup Ready sugarbeets while work on the EIS continues. However, to address the uncertainty created by the Center for Food Safety’s vows to overturn APHIS’ determination, the sugarbeet industry has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that, in part, seeks a declaratory judgment that APHIS’ action fulfills the requirements of federal law.
Because the sugarbeet industry feels that a few of the mandatory measures required by APHIS go beyond what is required under federal law, the lawsuit also asks the court to determine that certain of the interim measures adopted by APHIS impose an unnecessary burden. This lawsuit does not reflect a lack of respect or dissatisfaction with the significant work that USDA has undertaken to address matters that are critical to our industry, including the opportunity to plant RRSB this spring. A tremendous amount of time and work by USDA officials went into the comprehensive EA, and growers need to fully recognize and appreciate that effort.
On February 25, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an injunction that had ordered the destruction of sugarbeet stecklings (seedlings) that were genetically modified to tolerate labeled Roundup agricultural herbicides. The Appeals Court said that plaintiffs failed to show that the stecklings, being grown under permits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), “present a possibility, much less a likelihood, of genetic contamination or other irreparable harm.”
The beet sugar industry’s growers, processors, technology providers and seed producers are pleased that the Ninth Circuit, after considering relevant legal precedents and evidence, concluded that the planting of these permitted stecklings was unlikely to cause harm, and that deference should be given to APHIS’ “technical expertise and judgments on this score.” The stecklings are intended for research and breeding purposes, as well as basic seed and hybrid seed production for 2012 and future years.
The Appeals Court also said that it would address in a separate decision the appeal regarding the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California’s August 13, 2010, order vacating the deregulation of biotech sugarbeets. No time frame was provided for when the decision will be made.
In addition, also on February 25, the District Court judge in San Francisco, whose decision was the subject of the appeal, declined to hear another case brought by the plaintiffs regarding the next stage of Roundup Ready sugarbeet cultivation.