Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
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Organic farmers post legal win against USDA


Suit challenged premature deregulation of genetically engineered beets

High MowingOrganic farmers won a 20-month legal battle with a recent ruling against the USDA for premature deregulation of Monsanto’s genetically engineered sugar beets. Additional plaintiffs included the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance and the Sierra Club and were represented by Earth Justice attorneys. The groups filed the lawsuit in January, 2008.

Tom Stearns of High Mowing Organic Seeds, a mail-order organic seed company based in Wolcott, Vermont, said, “This ruling is a success not just for organic farmers but for all who have hope for a healthier food system in this country. All wise solutions to our agricultural challenges should serve our physical health, environmental health and the economic viability of farmers and the communities in which they live.”

The U.S. District Court for the northern district of California ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) violated federal law by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement before deregulating genetically altered sugar beets.

Monsanto developed the biotech beets to be resistant to Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide Roundup, and promotes the sugarbeets as “Roundup Ready.” In 2009, 1.1 million acres were planted with GMO sugar beets and almost half of the sugar in the U.S. is made from beets.

Recently, the USDA has shown great signs of progress in support of local and organic food by elevating the National Organic Program to its own division and by hiring Miles McEvoy as its head.  The USDA, headed by Sec. Vilsack and Deputy Sec. Merrigan have also been making important announcements for the last week as they kick-off their new campaign, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.  Stearns believes that these are critical and substantial changes within the department and “that a tipping point has been reached and that the USDA is now becoming part of the solution to re-building healthy food systems in this country.”

“The spread of any GE crops creates many environmental and economic as well as cultural risks. And it does not bring us any closer to the kind of progress that we need to be making to ensure a sustainable and even regenerative food supply for us all,” Stearns said. “Organic and non-GE farmers have the right to farm the way that they want to without concern of getting polluted by pollen that would cause a loss of the integrity of their crop. Consumers deserve the right to eat what they choose to without the concern of putting something into their bodies that they don’t want to consume.” — Tom Stearns

Stearns authored the Safe Seed Pledge, which is endorsed by six additional seed companies.

“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations…The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms poses great biological risks, as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities.”– Tom Stearns

High Mowing is just one of dozens of farms and agricultural businesses in the Hardwick, Vermont region that have been collaborating with each other for many years.  The NY Times, Gourmet Magazine (which ceased publication with the November, 2009 issue), Eating Well Magazine and authors Michael Pollan, Bill McKibben, Sen. Patrick Leahy and many others have declared the region as a national model for healthy food systems and building economic development through value-added agriculture.

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