GMO Sugar Beets Are A-OK, Says USDA

Nearly 95 percent of the U.S. sugar beets are GMO — and feds say that's just fine with them.

sugar beets
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Genetically modified sugar beets just got a sweet pass from the USDA yesterday. The agency announced that the crop poses no pest risk and would therefore be deregulated, much to the disappointment of groups like the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Sierra Club, that challenged the agency in a lawsuit stretching back to 2008, on the premise that not enough research had been done over the environmental impacts of the genetically engineered crop.

“We’re definitely disappointed, and we think the USDA has made the wrong decision,” Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety tells TakePart.

If you think the ruling doesn’t impact you, think again.

MORE: Kashi's GMO Controversy Rages On

Nearly 95 percent of the U.S. sugar beet production is grown from genetically modified seeds -- a swift change from 2005 when they were first approved for planting. More than half of our domestic sugar production comes from sugar beets, the remainder comes from sugar cane.

“With this decision, farmers and distributors can freely move and plant [Roundup Ready] sugar beet without further regulatory oversight,” writes the USDA.

While the agency’s announcement focuses on pest risk, Tomaselli says there are other very serious concerns including the increase of superweeds caused by resistance to the herbicide glysophate, and cross contamination of non-gmo crops like organic table beets or Swiss chard, often grown in the same regions.

“The USDA admits [GE sugar beets] are going to cause increase glysophate resistant weeds. They’re saying that they don’t have the authority to regulate Roundup Ready sugar beets and we disagree,” says Tomaselli.

Whether or not it will trigger a new round of litigation is still unclear.

Since the original lawsuit, planting of genetically engineered sugar beets was suspended by a federal judge, and later, allowed by the USDA to avoid a sugar shortage, a situation that had worried the food industry. With the deregulation complete, however, expect widespread planting of GM sugar beet to continue.

How do you feel about the steady trickle of GMOs into our food supply?

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