Nov. 11, 2010 /EIN Presswire/ – In a victory for biotech giant Monsanto, federal agriculture officials have released a plan to let farmers plant genetically modified sugar beets while a lawsuit over them is resolved.

Since the USDA is under a court order to restrict the use of the controversial product it’s unclear how the court will view this latest action.

Ninety-five percent of the sugar beet crop in the country is grown from seeds engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan would release farmers to plant the modified beets under a closely monitored permit process designed to prevent them from contaminating other crops. Farmers normally order seeds in November for the next spring planting. Sugar beet growers have been in limbo, not knowing whether they can use the Monsanto product.

Because of the dominance of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds other seed companies have reduced production. Beet producers are skeptical that they can get enough seeds if Monsanto’s are not available.

Last June, a federal court halted the planting of genetically modified sugar beets until the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted an environmental impact study. The Monsanto Roundup Ready proved popular with sugar beet farmers because it overcame problems with herbicide resistant weeds.

The lawsuit challenging the USDA approval of Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds is based on concerns that the genetically modified plants would cross pollinate with plants that aren’t genetically modified.

The court ruled that the USDA needed to conduct a full environmental assessment of the new seeds. USDA has been searching for a way to stabilize the sugar beet industry while it completes the environmental assessment.

It’s unclear how the federal court will view the latest plan and whether it will be sufficient to satisfy the existing ban on the product.

Half of the nation’s sugar comes from sugar beets. Confusion over the sugar beet question has fueled a huge spike in sugar prices, which have more than doubled in two years.

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