GM sugar beets approved for planting by the USDA

Despite a court order to conduct a thorough Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of genetically modified (GM) sugar beets before deregulating the seeds, The USDA has decided to allow the planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets.

US District Court Judge Jeffrey White agreed with environmental groups including Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety last August in the need for EIS preparation. GM sugar beets have been developed to withstand greater applications of herbicides, but because the crops are wind pollinated, further studies were recommended, particularly on the risk of cross-contamination of organic crops.

A complete EIS could take until Spring 2012 to prepare according to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) prompting Monsanto to request an option to permit regulated planting of the beets until the EIS is complete. APHIS’ biotechnology regulatory services deputy administrator, Michael Gregoire, said: “After conducting an environmental assessment, accepting and reviewing public comments and conducting a plant pest risk assessment, APHIS has determined that the Roundup Ready sugar beet root crop, when grown under APHIS imposed conditions, can be partially deregulated without posing a plant pest risk or having a significant effect on the environment.”

The approval of GM beets comes a week after the deregulation of Monsanto’s Round-up Ready GM alfalfa, inciting outrage amongst anti-GM organizations including the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

Executive Director and CEO of the OTA, Christine Bushway, said “Once again, USDA has plowed ahead on genetically engineered crops, this time to approve a petition for partial deregulation, even though the courts have found that USDA’s APHIS failed to comply with National Environmental Policy Act mandates.”

According to the OTA, unrestricted commercialization of GM crops make up more than 86 percent of the country’s corn and 93 percent of soybeans and has resulted in the widespread presence of GM materials in mainstream food products without labeling or the knowledge of consumers. Bushway claims, “This direct affront to farmer and consumer choice flies in the face of USDA’s mandate and greatly jeopardizes agricultural diversity and the future of rural American livelihoods.”

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Photo: New Energy and Fuel