USDA Sued over Genetically Modified Beets: Food Wars Heat Up

genetically modified foods, istockphoto
Will lawsuit against U.S. Department of Agriculture slow plantings of genetically modified foods? (istockphoto)

(CBS) The battle over genetically modified foods is heating up.

Last week a group of food safety groups filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its recent decision to allow plantings of genetically modified sugar beets.

The agency had said it would issue permits for seed producers to plant modified beets that would not be allowed to flower, according to Reuters.

Not so fast, said the food safety groups.

The groups - including the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club, and the Organic Seed Alliance - said the plantings could still modify neighboring crops, adding that the agency's decision violates an August court ruling that prohibited future plantings of modified beets, according to a statement released by the Center for Food Safety.

"The Court has already found that the approval of this engineered crop was illegal," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, said in the statement. "Rather than complying with the court's order, the USDA is once again acting as a rogue agency in illegally allowing these crops to be planted without the required hard look at their environmental and economic dangers."

The beets at issue have been genetically modified to tolerate applications of Monsanto's popular Roundup herbicide, according to the statement. That "allows farmers to douse their fields with the chemical without concern for the crop itself, leading to greater use of the herbicide. Constant application of the herbicide also accelerats development of Roundup-resistant 'super weeds.'"

Sounds scary, but what does the Agriculture Department make of the lawsuit? CBS News called the agency to find out, but the call went unanswered.