The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided to partially deregulate genetically modified (GM) sugar beets, allowing planting of the crop under certain conditions, despite a court ban.
In August last year, US District Court Judge Jeffrey White ruled in favor of a coalition of environmental groups led by Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety to block the further cultivation of GM sugar beets while an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared. The plaintiffs had expressed concern that GM beet pollen could contaminate non-GM and organic crops because sugar beets are wind pollinated.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said that a full EIS could take until May 2012 to prepare, and issued a draft environmental assessment of GM sugar beets in November at the request of Monsanto, including an option to permit planting of the beets under certain conditions in the interim period. Monsanto is currently the only supplier of GM sugar beets, genetically modified to be resistant to its Roundup-brand herbicide.
Deputy administrator for APHIS' biotechnology regulatory services Michael Gregoire said on Friday: “After conducting an environmental assessment, accepting and reviewing public comments and conducting a plant pest risk assessment, APHIS has determined that the Roundup Ready sugar beet root crop, when grown under APHIS imposed conditions, can be partially deregulated without posing a plant pest risk or having a significant effect on the environment.”
Under the partial deregulation plan, growers will be required to enter into a compliance agreement with APHIS that outlines the conditions under which the plant can be grown.
Gregoire added that partial deregulation is an interim measure while APHIS completes its EIS.
The Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice have said they intend to appeal APHIS’ decision to allow further planting of the crop.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said: “The lax conditions on growing the GE sugar beets in today’s approval are not materially different from those earlier rejected by the federal court as inadequate to protect other farmers, the public, and the environment.”
Beet sugar accounts for about half of the US sugar supply, and 95 percent of sugar beets planted in the US are Monsanto’s Roundup Ready beets.
Another court ruling ordering destruction of GM sugar beets that were planted in contravention of a court ban in order to provide seed for the 2012 planting season is on hold until later this month pending appeal.