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USDA Sticks a Hoe into the Sugar Beet Issue

Caught since Aug. 13 between a federal judge and some inept inaction by the Agriculture Department, sugar beet growers with about one million acres in a dozen states have been wondering what’s going to be the next thing to happen to them.

 

Against predictions that sugar prices will be going up next year, raising all sorts of food prices, USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) Wednesday announced steps it will be taking to allow growers to continue to plant Roundup Ready sugar beets.

 

It was the first response by APHIS since U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco ordered the agency to again regulate Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets while it completes an Environmental Impact Statement on the genetically modified plant.

 

Genetically engineered sugar beet root and seed crops planted on or before Aug. 13 were exempted from White’s order.   The judge blamed APHIS for failing to act earlier, saying the USDA “has already had more than sufficient time to take interim measures, but failed to act expediently.”

 

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack Wednesday said APHIS “must chart a course for compliance with its statutory authorities and environmental statutes, such as NEPA, while USDA works to create the environment where all types of producers can and do produce all types of crops.”

During the five year period when Roundup Ready sugar beets were not regulated by USDA, they took over about 95 percent of the cropland dedicated to sugar beets in the U.S. Monsanto’s GM product was quickly adopted because it is resistant to the company’s agricultural herbicide called Roundup.

 

This means growers do not have to use expensive, and some say, less environmentally friendly herbicides more frequently.  They just apply Roundup to the entire field and forget it.

 

Since White’s order, sugar beet growers have said here is no “going back’ because of shortages of non-GM seed and equipment changes.

 

“The steps we have outlined today not only respond to the concerns of producers while complying with the court’s ruling, but also further USDA’s continuing efforts to enable coexistence among conventional, organic, and biotechnology production systems,” Vilsack said.

 

USDA said White’s ruling does not preclude APHIS from authorizing future planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets.

 

APHIS announced it was taking the following steps:

 

-Taking applications and issuing permits for production of seedlings under conditions that will not allow flowering of the stecklings.

 

-Evaluating a request for partial deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets.

 

-Completing the EIS as ordered by White, which will take two years.

 

Higher sugar beet yields in the United States this year have increased domestic sugar production by about 100,000 tons.

© Food Safety News
  • If anyone’s interested in learning more about sugar beets, including potential cross pollination of Roundup Ready beets with non-GMO beets, you might want to check out Sugar beet biology at Biofortified.org.