“Regulatory Impotence” and the Meteoric Rise of GMO Sugar Beets

If you’re not yet aware of the drama that surrounded the rise of GMO sugar beets in the United States over the past several years, now’s a great time to get caught up.  This article from Grist does a solid job of summarizing the events.

If you’re Monsanto, you’re probably really proud of your genetically modified (GMO) sugar beets. Introduced in 2008, the beets are the company’s most recent Roundup Ready product genetically engineered to withstand the direct application of the herbicide glyphosate. Immediately successful, they took over the sugar beet market within two years. By 2010, 95 percent of the sugar beets grown in the U.S. were Monsanto’s genetically modified variety.

But as we’re well accustomed to with Monsanto, a lawsuit quickly entered the picture as well.  In 2010…

A federal judge revoked the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) approval for the seed in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety on the basis that the agency violated the law by failing to perform a full environmental impact statement for the seed. This is a critical oversight given the risks of genetic contamination of conventional and organic seeds by the GMO seeds through wind-blown pollen, as well as the current superweed crisis caused by overuse of glyphosate.


GMO Sugar Beets

“Unless that bag of sugar you just bought is labeled ‘Certified Organic’ or ‘100 percent cane sugar,’ it almost certainly contains sugar made from GMO crops.”

That ruling, however, was not without controversy itself, especially since it threatened the sugar supply of America!  How horrifying was that last sentence?!

The problem with the judge’s order, however, was that Monsanto had so successfully crowded out sugar beet seed competitors that once he ruled the beets “illegal” it quickly became clear that there were no conventional sugar beet seeds to be found. So America faced the prospect of total Armageddon the zombie apocalypse cats and dogs sleeping together a 20 percent reduction in that year’s sugar crop. In response — and in defiance of the federal judge’s order — the USDA allowed farmers to plant GM sugar beets anyway.

The result of all this drama was eventually that the USDA, after releasing its full environmental review of the sugar beets, recommended full “deregulation” of GMO sugar beets, opening the door for unrestricted planting.  The review placed a high priority on “the absence of alternative seeds and the potential disruption to sugar supplies — an absence that has been shaped by consolidation in the seed industry.”

Unsurprisingly, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit weren’t too happy with that result.  As George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety (a plaintiff) described it, the FDA was simply claiming “regulatory impotence.”

It’s hard… to reconcile the environmental review’s dry discussion of superweeds in GM sugar beet fields with the far more dire warnings that came out of the recent National Academy of Science summit on the topic. And it’s also hard to take seriously the USDA’s claim that farmers will take voluntary steps to ensure GMO sugar beets aren’t planted too closely to conventional ones (or related species like chard and other beets).

There’s more to the story as well, and you can read the rest of the very informative article over at Grist.org:


Author: gmocontroversy

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