Despite a US federal ban on GM sugar beet plants, the USDA has given farmers a green light to resume planting Monsanto’s genetically modified beets.
The USDA has for the first time actually “deregulated” the use of a genetically modified crop, and is now allowing the unrestricted planting of GM crops without passage of a regulatory review.
The USDA’s rogue move was made under the guise of avoiding a US sugar shortage, but the shortage was caused in large part by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s failure to increase quotas imposed on imported sugar.
Roundup Ready seeds have already been planted on about 95 percent of all sugar beet acreage last year, and were harvested in spite of a federal judge throwing out the approval of the GM beet crop for commercial planting.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White claimed the USDA had not properly considered the potential environmental impacts and failed to conduct a study of the GM beet crop’s potential consequences.
Wind-blown pollen from GM sugar beet plants risk reaching organic fields where the GM traits could spread.
Last August, because of cross-pollination concerns regarding crop contamination, a judge ruled in favor of environmental groups’ demands against planting GM beets, but by September, the USDA had issued four permits to growers in Oregon and Arizona. Judge White subsequently ordered all 256 acres of genetically engineered sugar beets to be pulled from the ground.
“The government didn’t look at how these GMOs could contaminate organic table beets or Swiss chard, which are in the same family,” says Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety. “The court said that going forward it was illegal to plant any GMO sugar beets. While it was okay to harvest what was already in the ground, it wasn’t legal to sell any GMO sugar beet seeds.”
According to the WSJ, Monsanto said last Friday that the USDA’s move would allow U.S. farmers to begin planting genetically modified sugar beets this spring. As the Journal notes, environmental and organic-seed groups that originally sued the USDA vowed to ask Judge White to block this latest move by the USDA.
More than half of the nation’s granulated sugar comes from genetically modified sugar beets; the other half comes from sugar cane.
Monsanto has now gained near complete control over US food policy on genetically engineered crops. Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced his decision to allow the unrestricted commercial cultivation of Monsanto’s genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Vilsack reneged on his pledge to restrict growing genetically engineered alfalfa to protect organic farmers from biotech contamination.
Last year, the Supreme Court lifted a nationwide ban on the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa seeds, reversing a 2007 California US District Court ruling that the USDA illegally approved Monsanto’s GE alfalfa without carrying out a full Environmental Impact Statement.