Genetically Modified Sugar Beets
17 Oct, 2010
Since labeling of genetically modified (GM) crops is not required by the USDA, and since information about the latest GM developments seems to never make mainstream news, it’s extremely fortunate that the Center for Food Safety constantly watches such occurrences and works diligently to stop them.
The current matter that CFS is pursuing is that of GM sugar beets—approved for planting by the USDA back in September 2009. A year later, a federal district judge for the Northern District of California has ruled that the Center for Food Safety and several co-plaintiffs are likely to succeed on claims that the USDA illegally permitted the planting of genetically engineered sugar beets. The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety on behalf of the coalition of farmers and conservation groups on September 9, 2010, and their immediate request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction halting planting of the crop.
“The judge ruled that we were likely to succeed on our claims, and asked for an additional briefing from us that especially covered remedies,” Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney with the Center for Food Safety, explained to Organic Connections. “Essentially he’s asking for our recommendations on what he should do now that we’re likely to succeed on the environmental claim. Should he rip the crops up or leave them in place? We’re of course recommending that he rip up the crops.”
As with most other GM crops, the sugar beets were genetically modified to make them resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup pesticides. “These sugar beets have been created in order to apply the Roundup pesticides to the crops, so they encourage additional pesticide use,” Tomaselli said. “One of the largest concerns that we have, however, is the genetic contamination when these sugar beet seeds are grown near other seeds—conventional sugar beet seeds, table beets or fresh chard, organic or conventional; there is the potential that the genetically engineered crops will contaminate the others.”
Such a case helps set a precedent for future cases. “Upwards of 90 percent of corn and soy are genetically modified already,” Tomaselli pointed out. “Some of the earlier deregulations we didn’t challenge, and so we can’t go back and challenge them now. But future deregulations of what we call ‘stack varieties’—where they put five, six or seven different genetically modified traits into one variety of corn—these are definitely up for challenge. We don’t know what’s going to happen; it’s not well studied what occurs when you put all these traits together and when you’re using multiple pesticides together. The environmental effects have not been appropriately researched by the government. We will challenge that if the government does not do its job and conduct the federal environmental review it’s supposed to.”
CFS has been holding the line against genetically modified organisms for some years. Back in 2007, they succeeded in obtaining a ban on GM alfalfa pending an environmental impact statement from the USDA. They also recently have begun contesting a pending USDA ruling on the allowance of genetically modified salmon.
“With the sugar beets, once again the USDA has bypassed environmental review and public comment to cater to industry preferences,” Tomaselli concluded. “We cannot allow the USDA to abdicate its responsibility to protect public health and the environment.”
For more information on CFS and their current activities, visit their website at www.truefoodnow.org.