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Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets Face New Legal Challenge

(Beyond Pesticides, September 13, 2010) Several groups opposed to genetically engineered (GE) foods filed suit in San Francisco against the USDA on Thursday to stop the agency from sidestepping National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations and allowing the planting of GE sugar beets. Government approval of the crop was revoked in August; however, USDA announced on September 1 it would issue permits allowing farmers to plant GE sugar beets as long as the crop did not flower. The plaintiffs, which include Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Organic Seed Alliance, and High Mowing Organic Seeds Company with representation from Earth Justice, contend the plantings would contaminate nearby farms with GE pollen, and again asked the judge to bar all planting of GE sugar beets.

The GE sugar beets, produced by St. Louis-based Monsanto, have been engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, sold by Monsanto under the trade name Round Up. According to the Agro Industry giant their “Round-Up Ready” Sugar Beet was adopted by North American farmers faster than any other biotech crop to date. Planting glyphosate resistant crops allows growers to apply glyphosate indiscriminately. As a result, herbicide use has jumped dramatically. Despite the prevailing myth that Round-Up is safer than table salt, researchers have shown the herbicide poses many threats to human health, including increased cancer risk, as well as necrosis or death of human embryonic stem cells. Researchers are also finding an increasing number of glyphosate resistant “super weeds.” As resistance to the herbicide grows, farmers may chose to switch to even more toxic chemicals for weed control.

The plaintiffs in this case originally brought suit in 2009 against USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for approving GE sugar beets without first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Most of the sugar beet crop is grown in or near Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Other crops grown in the area that can easily cross breed with the GE beets include table beets and Swiss chard, threatening farmers’ livelihoods, and robbing consumers of the choice to avoid GE crops. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in the Northern District of California sided with the plaintiffs and ordered APHIS to prepare an EIS. In August of 2010, Judge White revoked government approval of GE sugar beets, but allowed for beets that had already been planted before Aug 13 to be harvested and sold. In violation of Judge White’s ruling, USDA decided it would issue permits to farmers to plant the beets to produce seed stock as long as they did not flower. It is, however, not possible for the crop to produce seeds without flowering. The plaintiffs have now asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction to stop APHIS from issuing these permits.

Beyond Pesticides opposes the use of genetic engineering in agriculture because of the dangers it poses to human health and the environment. The widescale adoption of GE crops has lead to a marked increase in the use of pesticides, and emerging research has linked genetically modified crops to organ damage. All the while, these crops have failed in their promise to deliver a marked increase in yield. Currently, there are no regulations requiring GE foods to be labeled as such. The best way for consumers to avoid GE foods is to choose organic products. Organic agriculture embodies an ecological approach to farming that does not rely on or permit toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetically engineered organisms, antibiotics, sewage sludge, or irradiation. For more information on why organic agriculture is the best choice for you, farmworkers, and the environment see our Eating with a Conscience guide.

Source: Los Angeles Times


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