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Environmental groups concerned about the spread of genetically engineered food won a major victory in court earlier this week. Granting summary judgment for the plaintiffs in The Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, San Francisco federal district court judge Jeffrey White ruled that the United States Department of Agriculture had improperly deregulated a variety of sugar beets that were genetically engineered to be resistant to the Roundup pesticide. This deregulation had allowed the beets, called Roundup Ready beets, to be grown and distributed throughout the United States without any restrictions.

The plaintiffs had sued the Secretary of Agriculture over the deregulation in January 2008, claiming that the USDA and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service failed to conduct the sort of careful environmental impact review required by the National Environmental Policy Act, and other laws. (APHIS regulates the introduction of genetically engineered products.) They alleged that the Roundup Ready beets posed a threat to other crops because their seeds could cross-pollinate with non-altered beets and Swiss chard.

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