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Beet Growers Ask: ‘What About Next Year?’

With imports cut off and sugar available for purchase only with the right ration coupon, the federal government during World War II put out a poster that said: “Plant More Sugar Beets!”

Now sugar beet growers are wondering if the federal government policy for the 2011 crop year will be “Plant No Sugar Beets!”

sugar-beets4-featured.jpgThey are seeking a meeting soon; perhaps as early as this week, with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service about how Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) sugar beets will now be regulated.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White on Aug. 13 ordered USDA to re-regulate Monsanto’s controversial Roundup Ready sugar beets.  This year’s GM sugar beet crop, about one million acres in ten states, is excluded from the order.

Roundup Ready sugar beets account for 95 percent of this year’s plantings, and have become so dominant that beet growers say there is not enough conventional seed remaining to go back to growing non-GMOs.  In addition, many switched out machinery to accommodate the GM sugar beet plantings.

USDA, which deregulated GM sugar beets in 2005, has also been ordered to write an environmental impact statement on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets.  The statement process will run until at least 2012.

The question almost every U.S. beet grower has is “what happens in 2011?”

sugar-beets2-iphone.jpgThe answer to that question will also impact consumers as GM beets produce about half of the U.S. domestic sugar supply.  Planting restrictions will mean food processors will have to turn to more foreign sources to make up the demand for sugar, likely raising the prices of thousands of food products.

Sugar industry leaders say White’s order does not necessarily ban planting next year’s crop. Rather, they think USDA can enact “interim” measures that would cover the period of time the environmental impact statement process takes.

Duane Grant, chairman of Amalgamated Sugar, says sometime “between now and the next planting season” USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will decide “whether it in the best interest of the public to allow the interim planting of biotech beet seeds pending the completion of the environmental impact statement.”

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