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Federal Court To USDA: Rethink Genetically Modified Sugar Beets

A new federal district court decision has overturned a 5-year USDA approval of genetically modified sugar beets.

harvested sugar beets

Photo: bby_ (flickr)

Genetically modified sugar beet crops provide nearly half of U.S. domestic sugar production.

On Friday, U.S. District Court judge, Jeffery S. White of San Francisco, issued a ruling that overturned a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulation allowing the planting of genetically modified (GM) sugar beets.

White’s decision will likely affect nearly all U.S. beet farmers (and the food companies who rely on U.S. sugar) for the next several years.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety, Sierra Group and others against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These groups claim that the USDA did not carefully consider environmental consequences when they first approved the planting of genetically modified sugar beets 5 years ago.

Modified sugar beets are preferred by many farmers, because they are immune to the popular chemical weedkiller Roundup. This method of weed control is so popular that 95% of all sugar beets grown in the U.S. are now genetically modified varieties that carry the herbicide resistant gene. Roughly 50% of sugar produced in the U.S. comes from these genetically modified beets.

Those opposed to genetic modification fear that the modified gene could cross-pollinate with non-GM sugar beet crops. They also argue that biotech methods will eventually be ineffective, because new weeds will develop that will also be immune to chemical treatment.

This is already the case in some genetically modified cotton and soybean crops.

More: Some Weeds Are Now “Roundup Ready” Too

The new ruling means that the USDA will be required to re-do their regulatory review process. This includes a lengthy environmental-impact report that could take until spring of 2012 to complete.

In the meantime, the planting of modified sugar beets is completely forbidden on U.S. farms, although this year’s crop – the plants already in the ground – will be allowed to be harvested and sold as usual.

Read More:

  • Food Firms Jarred by Sugar-Beet Restriction (WallStreetJournal)
  • Judge Revoked U.S.D.A. Approval of Modified Sugar Beets (NYTimes)
  • U.S. District Court’s Decision (pdf)

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Molly Plunkett

Molly Plunkett is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for Earth Eats. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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