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USDA allows planting of GE sugar beets

publication date: Feb 8, 2011
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made a decision to continue to allow planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets despite a court order to complete a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before making any decision. The sugar beet announcement comes one week after USDA announced that Roundup Ready alfalfa could be planted without restriction. 

Monsanto owns both the Roundup herbicide and the genetically altered crops.

Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association, called USDA's decision a "direct affront to farmer and consumer choice." 

Unrestricted commercialization of GE crops—86 percent of the country’s corn and 93 percent of soybeans—has resulted in widespread unlabeled presence of GE materials in mainstream food products unbeknownst to the average consumer, OTA said. The USDA organic program is the only federal food label that prohibits the use of GE crops or materials. Currently, the organic sector bears the burden created by unchecked release of GE crops. According to USDA, 95 percent of sugar beets grown in the United States are genetically modified to tolerate Monsanto’s herbicide, even though in 2009, the courts decided that non-regulated status violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

OTA filed public comment on Dec. 6 calling on USDA to not move forward with genetically altered sugar beets in any manner without completing the EIS. On Jan 26, OTA joined other organic companies and interests to sign on as amici curiae in the ongoing litigation to halt the continued planting of GE sugar beets.

“It is amazing that we find ourselves in this situation where the average consumer has no idea the extent of genetic engineering in the domestic sugar supply,” Bushway said. She added that releasing GE crops into the environment has the potential for environmental, health, and economic impacts that USDA is failing to take seriously as it hands another victory to the well-funded and influential biotech industry.“The expected impact of this decision is far reaching, particularly to organic farmers and consumers. With 21 petitions for other new genetically altered crops pending, we are left to wonder how future farmer and consumer choice can be maintained under the current circumstances,” Bushway said.

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