When you’ve been running the board in a San Francisco courtroom and you are on the verge of having genetically modified (GM) sugar beets torn up by their roots, do you care if USDA tries to do a little something on its own?

Probably not all that much.

USDA on Feb. 4 said that it was partially deregulating GM sugar beets, allowing plantings in 2011, under certain conditions. 

“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,” a top USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) official said.

But that decision is just one more item for Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety to appeal, probably in U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White’s courtroom. That is the same venue where the challengers have been racking up wins.

It is White who has ordered those GM sugar beets pulled out by the roots, an action now on its own appeal. Those plantings would provide seed for the 2012 growing season.

Challengers to the Round-Up Ready sugar beets fear their pollen might contaminate organic and other non-GM crops.  Monsanto’s GM sugar beets are resistant to its own Round-Up brand of herbicide.

Before White ordered USDA to do a full-blown environmental impact statement on Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready GM sugar beets, 95 percent of the growers in the dozen states where they are planted had adopted them.

The final EIS is not due until May 2012.  USDA issued the draft last November and it included at option, requested by Monsanto, for a planting option in the interim under certain conditions.

Today, beets account for about half of U.S. sugar production.

APHIS says GM sugar beets could be planted so long as growers entered into compliance agreements. The partial deregulation is intended as an interim measure until APHIS completes the final EIS.

“The lax conditions on growing the GE sugar beets in today’s approval are not materially different from those earlier rejected by the federal court as inadequate to protect other farmers, the public, and the environment,” says Paul Achitoff, attorney for Earthjustice.

Earthjustice’s summary of what has happened to date includes:

  • In 2008, the groups sued USDA for deregulating Monsanto’s genetically modified sugar beets without complying with the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement of an EIS before deregulating the crop. 

  • On Aug. 13, 2010, the federal court banned the crop until USDA fully analyzed the impacts of the GE plant on the environment, farmers and the public in an EIS.

  • Three weeks later, despite the court’s ruling, and without any prior environmental analysis, USDA issued permits to seed growers to again grow the genetically modified sugar beets. 

  • The groups again sued USDA. On November 30, 2010, the court granted the groups’ motion for a preliminary injunction and ordered the seed crop destroyed. 

  • That order was stayed pending appeal, which is scheduled for argument on Feb. 15, 2011.

USDA’s decision on sugar beets follows only by a few days its Jan. 27 decision to fully deregulate GM alfalfa.

  • Julie Meadows

    WHAT A TRAVESTY that these dangerous, untested crops are being deregulated all over the world, harming people, animals and the environment-just so Monsanto can sell more of its toxic chemicals. And they are creating superweeds so huge they break farm implements. The USDA might as well be another arm of Monsanto. It is NOT RIGHT that this corporation and not the organic and non-GMO farmers are being protected and NOT the people who are guinea pigs in a gigantic food experiment eating these unlabeled toxins.

  • The floodgates are almost pretty much open at this point after the alfalfa…

  • any product containing g.m. should be labeled containing gm ingredients.

  • Doc Mudd

    …they met Goosey Loosey.
    Ducky Lucky said,
    “The sky is falling, Goosey Loosey.”
    “How do you know, Ducky Lucky?”
    “Turkey Lurkey told me.”
    “How do you know, Turkey Lurkey?”
    “Henny Penny told me.”
    “How do you know, Henny Penny?”
    “Chicken Little told me.”
    “How do you know, Chicken Little?”
    “I saw it with my eyes. I heard it with my ears. Some of it fell on my tail.”
    Goosey Loosey said,
    “We will run, we will run and tell the king.”

  • starhopper

    No problem to grow this in Canada. Only stopped in the USA so maybe the Canadian farmers can grow more GMO sugarbeets. I hope so.

  • Research the issue will ya!

    pretty one-sided article
    Does the writer of this article and the posters know what a sugarbeet looks like?
    Conventional seed use actually means more toxic chemicals used to control weeds. Roundup is actually the safer alternative as it has no residue in the ground after application.
    Look it up, Bayer Crop Science in the UK has a good list of the chemicals and application windows for sugar beets.
    Besides, I would say all that HFCS you are consuming comes from roundup ready corn, and your soy….roundup ready as well.
    Do some research!

  • Michael Bulger

    Organic food is grown without the use of Roundup, and I imagine its “less safe alternatives”. Safer does not mean safe.

  • Research the issue will ya!

    GMO crops allow for greater yeilds, lower input costs and maximized productivity and greater food security. GMO is a new term for an ancient practice – Gregor Mendel was not the first to realize that cross-breeding created desired traits in a plant or animal.
    Organic food is too costly to be sustainable. Marginal land is put into production to meet demand due to lower yields. We see the disastrous results in unsustainable farming practices when forests are clear-cut farmers do not practice crop rotation or soil conservation.
    As for food safety, ecoli, salmonella and other harmful food contaminations need to be addressed regardless of the food source. Ethical farming and food manufacturing practices are a must, and the USDA and the FDA have been gutted by the politicians since Reagan.
    Without GMO and without a viable agriculture policy, food prices would spike, and people would starve. It is your own personal choice to eat organic, but not everyone can afford to do so.

  • Michael Bulger

    You need to do some more research. Not only do studies show that organic is no less productive (and often more productive) then conventional farming, but the lower input costs make it more sustainable and profitable. It also supports the long-term health of the soil.
    Starvation is not a result of low production. It has not historically been so, and the FAO predicts food surpluses to continue. The issue is economic. Conventional farming, with its high-cost inputs, exasperates the problem.
    I challenge you to seek out factual information. I will start you off with a few studies.
    From UMN: http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/61460/2/Delbridge_2010_AAEA.pdf
    Organic fields outperforming conventional.
    From UC Davis: http://www.jstor.org/pss/2269357
    Organic tomatoes showing no disadvantage.
    From Washington State Univ.: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0012346
    Organic strawberries outperforming conventional.
    Additionally, the idea that you raise the specter of world hunger in response to an article about sugar is so inappropriate as to border on offensive. Malnutrition is a serious issue.

  • Jan

    “Research the issue will ya” sounds like a Monsanto employee or paid poster. There is usually at least one assigned to posts on each Internet site. Monsanto even has budget for it.

  • Doc Mudd

    Mike Bulger informs us: “Not only do studies show that organic is no less productive (and often more productive) then conventional farming, but the lower input costs make it more sustainable and profitable.”
    Good to know, Mike. So why, then, does organic stuff tend to cost more in the store than conventional, shouldn’t it be less costly? Do I smell organic fertilizer on your assertions, Mike?
    Something doesn’t add up – it ought to be cheaper if it yields more with fewer input costs. So, have these organic jockeys just been giving us a good old fashioned hosing down by overpricing the food all this while? Is it out of caprice they price this magical manna of the gods out of the reach of ordinary folks, the ones who need it most? Is it merely a delightfully pretentious conspicuous consumption elitist thing? Are organic producers simply being greedy and are organic consumers simply too slow-witted to hang onto their purse?
    What is it, Mike, that skews the economics and screws the consumer so effectively with organic? Why does your dubious claim leave your fingers stained red, have you been cherrypicking papers again? Sumpthin’ smells.
    And what does your fast-and-loose organic sales pitch have to do with sugar beets, the topic of the article?

  • Michael Bulger

    Mudd, I was responding to “Research the issue will ya!”. With some actual research.
    As far as the price premiums, there are several reasons. First, it should be noted that I’ve done price comparisons at Wegman’s in my home town. At that supermarket, a pound of organic carrots was less expensive than a pound of non-organic carrots. That being said, organic food is often a bit more expensive. It is so for different reasons and at different magnitudes depending on the product.
    What makes it so? Well, for one, there is the cost of certification. Organic is a fast-growing sector of the food economy. The consumers are willing to pay more to know that the farmers aren’t exposing their land, themselves, and their workers to dangerous chemicals. I heard yesterday of a farmer who said that he would not allow his children on his farm anymore out of concern for their health. So, yes, part of it is an price premium that is not connected to the cost of production. Many farmers say that they get transition to organic to save their farms economically. Cutting out the middleman and selling to a CSA or a farmers market at a few cents more per apple can provide that extra bit of income.
    This is a very real and very viable system of production. It is not a primitive, back-to-the-past industry. Organic farming techniques utilize modern knowledge of chemistry, biology, and the ecosystem. It certainly is easy to make fun. The chemical industry has been stigmatizing organic farmers in Britain since at least the 1940s. Their PR campaigns are echoed today, but the simple fact is that they paint a picture that promises profit and their prose is perpetuated by people who for whatever reason find it more comfortable to embrace the spin.
    If you’re still interested in why I spend a few dollars more per week on groceries, ask me. If you’re interested instead in why my groceries cost a few dollars more, maybe you should surf the USDA ERS site. I’d be interested to see more studies.
    Finally, in Europe the price differential is not as noticeable. I spoke with a German woman who was surprised to find that organic food in the U.S. costs as much more as it does compared to conventional. Why the difference? In Europe, organic food is supported by the government. The farmers receive more help in establishing practices that don’t need high-inputs of chemicals that damage the soil, the air, the water, and all the people.

  • Doc Mudd

    Thanks for the revealing explanation, Michael.
    So there you have it, folks; old-fashioned greed.
    Just a nice friendly little price ripoff courtesy of your friendly local organic farmer who reserves for himself/herself the right to generously line his/her pockets out of your weekly grocery budget. Exempt courtesy of Sen. Tester from food safety regulations, he/she is every bit as cavalier with your family’s safety. Turns out you and I are just marks to be hustled. Ah well, easy come, easy go.
    Happily, Michele Obama now has Walmart ramping up to get local food prices under control.
    Walmart has a tradition of requiring at least minimum food safety certification and their expertise in competition will tame down pricing ripoffs by growers. It is fortunate that greedy organic growers have plenty of fat profit for Walmart to trim out immediately, shouldn’t take long to get organic stuff cheaper than conventional in all categories based on Michael’s explanation. Can’t happen any too soon because, if you haven’t heard, there’s an economic recession with high unemployment going on – lots and lots of families on tight budgets. The deep savings will be most welcome!
    In the meantime, Kathleen Merrigan at USDA may be right about one thing; it is important to ‘know your farmer/grifter’. You know what they say; ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’.
    Keep one hand always on your purse at the farmers’ market. It ain’t common pickpockets in the crowd you need to watch out for. Caveat emptor, baby, caveat emptor!

  • Michael Bulger

    For fun, I just bought three Fuji apples within the span of 3 blocks in Brooklyn. Two are conventional (a,b) and one is organic (c).
    a: 83 cents (1.99/lb.)
    b: 96 cents (1.99/lb.)
    c: 110 cents (2.49/lb)
    I wish I could take the water out of these apples. Apples a and b are noticeably more watery. This is consistent with the WSU study which found that organic strawberries had higher dry matter percentages. I can also notice a very clear taste difference. There is significantly less flavor in a and b. Apple c tastes the best, by far.
    This is not a serious study (not submitting it for peer-review). Still, I think that part of the price per pound advantage is lost on water in apples a and b. There is also a corresponding loss of flavor.
    Even if I was to ignore the production methods and their economic and environmental costs, I think I’d still pay 15-25 cents more for a better and less water-logged apple. It’d be nice if I didn’t have to, but as organics become more established and popular, perhaps the prices will eventually be evened out.
    That was fun. I hope I amused someone. (I still think the conventional apples are a bad bargain. I feel like I bought a small glass of water.)

  • Doc Mudd

    Hey, Michael, my apologies, but I guess I will have to pester you for your specific citations to USDA ERS reports documenting consistently equal/superior YIELDS of all organic crops over conventional.
    I’m pretty familiar with the ERS library and I “surfed the USDA ERS site” just like you said to do, but I can’t seem to locate the definitive ERS CROP YIELD studies you refer to. (I did follow up your links above and discovered the first actually documents less yield for organic but handily supports your explanation of overpricing and greedy profit-taking, the second had one year of tomatoes just holding it’s own pound-for-pound and the last didn’t say much, at all about yield of strawberries that I could see).
    I tend to trust the ERS because they don’t just cherrypick a favorable report here, one there and ignore the vast body of credible literature that refutes their pre-conceived notion. I’ll bet you really appreciate the sort of professionalism ERS adheres to, too, don’t you Michael? I mean, doesn’t it kinda suck how so many zealots (some who know better) will just cherrypick a couple of mediocre studies to craft a slick, deceptive sales pitch and pull the wool over everyone’s eyes? Not the ERS, though, they can be trusted to maintain perspective.
    So, if you would just link those particular ERS CROP YIELD references you describe I would be good to start transitioning all of my beet ground to organic produce and get filthy stinkin’ rich. Kinda’ annoys me that I’m gonna hafta build a whole bunch more big bins and warehouses and coolers before harvest to handle all the extra organic produce that’s gonna come flooding in. Gonna’ need bigger field harvesting equipment and a bigger truck, too, to handle such massive new capacity!

  • Michael Bulger

    Very classy, Mudd. I’m sure you wouldn’t include farmers on your list of families on tight budgets.
    I’m don’t know what your vendetta against them is about, but it is palpable. The only thing more present is your lack of knowledge and your inability to grasp economics. If the farmers go under, you feel it, too. I won’t hold my breath for you to lose a step lambasting anyone who you look down upon in ignorance. Apparently, that includes farmers. Why I take the time to educate such an unseemly brute, I do not know.
    I will resign myself to ignore you as best I can.

  • Michael Bulger

    I wasn’t referring to any particular study. I don’t think I implied I was. I was urging you to do research on a site other than one which wastes webspace debunking Bigfoot (see another of your posts).
    Besides, I was suggesting you investigate pricing. That’s why I recommended the Economic Research Service. Yield might be better looked into via the Agricultural Research Service, don’t you think? I know this is difficult for you, Mudd.
    The UMN study showed mixed yield comparisons. For alfalfa, organic yields were greater. For soy, they were lower. However, if you took the time to read the study, you would see that the researchers also factored input costs along with price premiums. They also put organics at a disadvantage by assuming higher than average input costs and cutting average premiums in half. Their conclusion was that organics would be a more profitable endeavor even if premiums were substantially reduced, possibly eliminated.
    I’ll leave you to work your mind around that, but I’m not going to bother checking up on you as you don’t seem to be open to anything. I give you well-designed and peer-reviewed scientific studies and you manage to be rude AND simple. Try to be more mature next time around, will you?
    Good day.