Saturday, November 21, 2009

Beet Beat: The Fight Begins in Earnest

Now that a federal judge has ruled against the process that the FDA used to deregulate the planting of genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds, industry giants like Monsanto that get their income from those seeds and the pesticides and chemicals those crops depend on are screaming mad.

In a recent report on NPR's business program, Marketplace, it's pointed out that more than half of the country's sugar comes from sugar beets, almost all of which are grown from Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds. Luther Markwart of the American Sugar Beet Growers Association is quoted as saying "This is a food security issue. We need to make sure that we have a good, strong, viable domestic beet-sugar industry."

Reporter Mitchell Hartman also spoke with Oregon plant breeder and seedsman Frank Morton (left), who produces and sells organic seed for his Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, Oregon. Morton, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, says it's also a food security issue for him and the other organic growers in the Willamette Valley where nearly all of the country's GE sugar beet seed is grown.

"If biotech traits show up in my seeds, then my seeds are worthless," Morton said of his beet and chard crops that are susceptible to cross-pollination from the GE beet pollen. "If my traits show up in conventional or biotech seeds, it's not a big deal to them, it does not destroy their value. It's an asymmetrical relationship we have here."

Judge Jeffrey White has ordered the FDA to produce an environmental impact statement which, the program says, could take years. And on December 4, the plaintiffs are going to ask the judge to issue a permanent injunction "to halt the sale and planting of GE sugarbeet seeds now and into the future, until the USDA does its job to protect consumers and farmers alike," said Zelig Golden, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety.

The Marketplace report continues, "in a similar case, a judge banned Roundup Ready alfalfa; Monsanto's appealing that decision to the Supreme Court. If there's a ban on sugar beet planting nationwide, it's doubtful there's enough conventional seed in storage to lay in a crop next spring."

Rather than blaming the organic seed industry and farmers like Frank Morton, not to mention the courts, for this problem, maybe we need to look at the corporations that put us in this position in the first place.

Read the other posts in the series: The Beet Beat, In The Wind, The Wheels of Justice, The Wheels of Justice, Part 2.

Photo of Frank Morton by Mitch Lies for the Capital Press.

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