USDA Approves Genetically Modified Sugar Beets

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will permit the planting of genetically modified (GM) sugar beets under certain conditions, while continuing to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the beets under a ruling from a U.S. district court judge.

On Feb. 4, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued the decision to permit planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets in the spring 2011 season, provided that growers sign on to a compliance agreement from compliance agreement.governing how the crops can be grown.

“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,” said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS’ biotechnology regulatory services, in the agency’s public announcement of the decision.

In August 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White blocked the further cultivation of GM sugar beets while the EIS is prepared. Reporting that the full EIS could take until May 2012 to be completed, the APHIS issued an interim EIS in November.

The decision came just a week after the USDA also agreed to allow planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa; both products are genetically engineered to resist the company’s Roundup weed killer. Environmental groups have said they will appeal both decisions.

“I think the USDA has done their job in terms of an adequate assessment of the impact of these products on U.S. agriculture,” said Jeff Wolt, PhD, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University and a risk analyst affiliated with the Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products. “I believe the USDA is acting responsibly by trying to address concerns about whether these products may have an economic impact on certain sectors of agriculture, while at the same time allowing our agriculture system to move forward. If growers are not allowed to plant these seeds this season, there will be turmoil in the marketplace, because as I understand it, there are not enough non-GM sugar beet seed resources available for planting in the coming year.”

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