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USDA Defies Ban on Monsanto's Genetically Modified Sugar Beets

2/7/2011 1:33:06 PM

Tags: Monsanto, Roundup Ready beets, sugar beets, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tom Philpott, Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Just a week after the U.S. Department of Agriculture shocked the organic-farming community by allowing unrestricted planting of  genetically modified alfalfa, the agency has defied a court order prohibiting planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets until a proper study of their environmental impact could be done, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Last year a U.S. District judge in San Francisco blocked farmers from planting Monsanto’s genetically modified weedkiller-resistant beets, saying the USDA should have studied the crop more extensively before it was cleared in 2005. Concerned about an impending sugar shortage, the USDA announced on Friday that it would allow farmers to resume planting genetically modified beets if they follow rules designed to prevent the plants’ wind-blown pollen from reaching organic fields.

Sugar beets provide about half of the sugar consumed in the United States, and Monsanto controls 95 percent of the sugar beet seed market with its Roundup Ready genes, according to Tom Philpott’s article today in Grist. Philpott writes that Roundup Ready products now dominate all the largest U.S. crops: corn, soy, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa.

“As with alfalfa, blanketing cropland with GM beets raises the threat of cross-pollination--genetic material from modified beets could make its way into organic table beet and chard crops, both of which can cross-pollinate with sugar beets,” Philpott writes.
“Moreover, the problem of "superweeds"—weeds resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, which require heavier doses of more powerful herbicides—will only compound.”

Environmental groups say they will ask Judge White to block the USDA’s move, according to the Journal. A sugar industry study predicts that U.S. sugar production would drop 20 percent if the ban stayed in place.

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