Thursday, October 7, 2010

USDA permits of genetically engineered sugar beets ruled illegal yet again

A federal court has ruled against the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and deemed that it has acted illegally by allowing limited planting of an herbicide resistant, genetically engineered sugar beet called Roundup Ready despite a prior court-ordered ban.

Sugar beets are commercially grown plants for sugar production. The Roundup Ready sugar beet, also known as Event H7-1, was engineered by Monsanto and the German corporation KWS to include a gene that is tolerant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

On August 13, 2010, in another case, federal district Judge Jeffery White ruled that USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) had illegally deregulated a sugar beet designed to be resistant to Monsanto's herbicide, Roundup Ready.

Less than three weeks later, the USDA issued limited seeding permits to four sugar beet seed producers, arguing the step  didn’t violate the ban because those plantings wouldn’t be allowed to flower and that the  seeds would be used for widespread production in 2012 growing seasons.

By mid September 2010, the four seed producers stated that plantings had been completed and specified within the permits that their purpose was to produce stecklings (seedlings) to transplant into basic seed for commercial production in the winter of 2010-2011, a production stage which goes beyond the supposedly limited plantings at issue. “The permits are replete with references to future transplantation and use of the stecklings” according to case notes.

In Ctr. for Food Safety v. Vilsack, No. 10-04038   The plaintiffs, Center for Food Safety (CFS), Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Organic Seeds asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to stop APHIS from issuing permits and any planting allowed by them.

The judge granted the plaintiffs request to vacate approval of the crop.

Plaintiffs want the judge to order the destruction of the genetically engineered sugar beets that were planted. The judge will rule on the next steps by October 22.


In March 2005, USDA announced the deregulation of Event H7-1 stating that it "would not present a risk of plant pest introduction or dissemination" and could be introduced into the environment without permits.
Roundup Ready sugar beets were planted for the first time in the spring of 2008 by growers.

In 2008, CFS and the remaining plaintiffs argued that USDA failed to take a "hard look" at the environmental effects of cross pollination with conventional beets with its decision to deregulate in 2005 and called for a thorough assessment.

By 2009, federal court judge Jeffrey White ruled that the USDA had violated federal law in deregulating Roundup Ready sugar beets without adequately evaluating the environmental and socio-economic impacts before approving commercial release.  He ordered APHIS to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS).

By August 13 2010, the Court overturned USDA’s deregulation decision based on APHIS’s failure to prepare an EIS.

What does this mean for growers and the sugar beet industry?

According to a 2009 European Commission report the sugar beet event H7-1 shows that the likelihood of potential adverse effects on human health and the environment resulting from its cultivation and use as any other sugar beet is negligible.

Currently a large percentage if not 95 percent of sugar beet growers use Roundup Ready crops. The European Union, the United States, and Russia are the world's three largest sugar beet producers.

Roundup Ready sugar beet event H7-1 contains a gene encoding which tolerates Roundup herbicide. The objective of the gene modification is to improve expensive weed management practices and for optimal production efficiency of sugar beets.

No single currently registered herbicide offers the broad spectrum weed control afforded by Roundup. Instead, farmers today must resort to using several applications of multiple herbicides with high input of the respective chemicals.

The already popular strain of genetically engineered sugar beet can no longer be used by growers, most of which come from Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Consumers can consider local alternatives to processed and refined sugars such as organic sugar, evaporated cane juice, rice syrup, barley malt, tapioca syrup, wheat and oat syrup, honey, fruit juices, molasses, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and agave.

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