Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Beet Beat: The Wheels of Justice
Once in awhile the good guys win, and yesterday justice gave a big ol' smack upside the head to genetically modified seed developers and the people who regulate them. In the process it may help save organic seed growers in Oregon as well as consumers who don't want to eat genetically modified produce.
Harvesting organic seeds at Gathering Together Farm in Philomath.
A little over a year ago I wrote a post about a lawsuit filed by a consortium of organic-seed growers, organic farmers, and environmental and consumer groups against the US Dept. of Agriculture for deregulating the herbicide-tolerant "Roundup Ready" sugar beet seeds developed by Monsanto (read a summary I wrote at Culinate.com). The lawsuit charged that the U.S. Department of Agriculture violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement before deregulating RoundUp Ready sugarbeets.
The reason this is important to organic seed growers and consumers of organic produce in Oregon? Because nearly all of the seeds for sugar beets in the United States are grown in the Willamette Valley. Nearly all of those plants and the seeds they produce are genetically engineered. Their pollen can travel on the wind as far as five miles from its source (read a 2001 EU study here), cross-pollinating with fields of organic beets and chard and contaminating the entire crop. And since Oregon only requires a 3-mile "isolation zone" between fields, the problem becomes evident.
Or as Federal District Court Judge White said in his ruling, "In light of the large distances pollen can travel by wind and the context that seed for sugar beets, Swiss chard and table beets are primarily grown in one valley in Oregon, Plaintiffs have demonstrated that deregulation may significantly effect the environment."
The decision was announced today on the Organic Seed Alliance blog, and you can now download a pdf of the full text of the decision. The remedy phase of the case will occur on October 30. I'll keep you posted!
UPDATE (9/24/09): Read the sugar beet industry's response to the ruling here.
Read the other posts in the series: The Beet Beat, In The Wind, The Fight Begins in Earnest, The Wheels of Justice, Part 2.
Photo of seed harvest by