The US Department of Agriculture last Friday gave farmers the go-ahead to resume planting Roundup Ready sugarbeets—claiming it’s the only way to avoid a nationwide shortage of sugar!
Hot on the heels of the deregulation of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa, the USDA said it would once again allow the GE sugarbeet to be planted, contrary to the order of district court judge Jeffrey S. White, who said a full environmental impact statement (EIS) needed to be done first. As the Wall Street Journal points out, an EIS of the type ordered by the judge is usually thousands of pages long and takes years to conduct. That would have kept the genetically modified sugarbeets out of the hands of farmers at least through 2012.
This would allow farmers to begin planting GE sugarbeets this spring. But the environmental and organic seed groups that originally sued the USDA said Friday they would ask Judge White to block this latest move by the USDA.
Processors say there aren’t enough non-GE sugarbeet seeds around for farmers to plant this spring. A study conducted for the sugar industry predicted that US sugar production would plunge 20% if the judge’s ban stays in place, and it appears this study alarmed food companies enough that they were able the pressure USDA into acting now. (For more on sugar and sweeteners, see our article elsewhere in this issue.)
In this case, the sugarbeets are being “partially deregulated”: USDA is permitting farmers to plant genetically modified sugarbeets this year only if they adhere to rules designed to prevent the plant’s wind-blown pollen from reaching organic fields, where its biotechnology traits could spread—though if the rules themselves prove ineffective, organic sugarbeets will be contaminated.
That contamination is what is most worrisome. The Organic Consumers Association had this to say about the deregulation of alfalfa: “[It is] guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds….” Health advocates have the same concerns about sugarbeets.
If you haven’t already done so, please visit our Action Alert page where you can write to President Obama, Congress, and the USDA, and tell them to reverse this terrible decision. Please contact them today!
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