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USDA approves GE sugar beets

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On Feb. 4, USDA announced a “partial deregulation” of Monsanto’s genetically engineered sugar beets to allow planting in 2011. The move came despite a December federal court decision in which the judge ordered that GE beets already planted to produce seed “shall be removed from the ground”. USDA has defied the court on behalf of Monsanto before.

“Roundup Ready” sugar beets — designed to tolerate heavy applications of Monsanto’s infamous herbicide — comprise “a whopping 95% of the sugar beets sold in the U.S. and about half of the sugar,” reports Nature. Brought to market in 2007, they were ruled illegal following suits by the Center for Food Safety and others who argued that the USDA hadn’t completed an environmental impact statement. Advocates and farmers say that GE beets will contaminate organic and non-GE table beets, chard seeds and other sugar beets.

USDA won’t complete its environmental study until spring 2012. The partial deregulation means that growers will need permits and will be not allowed to grow sugar beet seeds within four miles of those crops susceptible to contamination. Paul Achitoff, lead counsel for Earthjustice and the groups that sued USDA, “said the conditions imposed on the growers were no different from what was now done voluntarily and would not prevent the spread of the biotech trait. ‘It’s just window dressing,’” he told the New York Times. The groups plan to appeal this latest decision in the same federal court where they won before.

The USDA decision follows on its controversial Jan. 27 announcement deregulating Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GE alfalfa.

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