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Roundup Ready sugar beets remain in legal limbo for 2011 and beyond

FARGO, N.D. -- February will be a key month for the Roundup Ready sugar beet case. Legal and administrative issues remain in limbo for 2011 and beyond, says Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association in Washington.

Here are the most recent actions:

- Aug. 13 -- U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco orders an injunction, saying the U.S. Department of Agriculture can't allow the planting of any Roundup Ready seed or seedlings. White ordered the destruction of sugar beet stecklings or seedlings used for research and for 2012 commercial hybrids. His Dec. 7 was appealed to the appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

- Nov. 30 -- 9th Circuit Court of Appeals orders a stay on White's Aug. 13 injunction, pending an appeal. The hearing date is Feb. 15 in San Francisco.

- Dec. 6 -- The deadline for comments on the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service draft proposal. APHIS, in its Nov. 4 proposal, had offered three options: do nothing and keep the beets restricted, allow them under permits or under partial deregulation.

APHIS has said it prefers Option 2. Some 3,700 comments were filed, including 80 percent in support of Option 3. APHIS on Nov. 4 put out a draft environmental assessment and will come out with the final assessment possibly by the end of February. On a separate but related track, USDA is working on an environmental impact statement for Roundup-Ready beets, which is due May 2012.

- Dec. 21 -- The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals extends the stay of White's injunction to Feb. 28. The Court of Appeals laid out a briefing schedule -- Dec. 29 for the seedling companies, Jan. 19 for the responses from the plaintiffs, and Jan. 26 for reply by the defendant and interveners. A three-judge panel will hear this on Feb. 15 in San Francisco -- 20 minutes per side.

Markwart says he doesn't know how growers stand for the 2011 crop year.

"I don't represent any particular individual processor," he says. "I represent all of the growers, so that kind of information is all proprietary. Nobody can tell me what they're doing because that's competitive between beet processors and with how they deal with their customers."

He thinks those details are being discussed between processors and attorneys and between processors and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a proprietary basis.

Mikkel Pates writes for Agweek, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.