USDA Deregulates GMO Sugar Beets

APHIS_150On Friday, June 1, 2012, the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it has completed the final assessment of Monsanto’s genetically engineered sugar beets that were modified to withstand continued applications of the Monsanto’s flagship herbicide, Roundup.  Since every application for deregulation of a genetically engineered crop has so far been approved, it surprised no one when the agency again recommended a complete deregulation.

APHIS prepared two assessments — an environmental impact statement and a plant pest risk assessment.  Both assessments were made pursuant to court orders after a lengthy legal battle with the USDA by concerned consumer and environmental groups.

The initial lawsuit, filed in January 2008, was in response to the agency’s decision to deregulate genetically engineered sugar beets. In September 2009, the district court ordered the agency to conduct a full environmental impact study. The following year, in August 2010, the same court set aside the agency’s initial deregulation decision of GE sugar beets.

The USDA’s response to the court’s August 2010 ruling was to grant industry members temporary permits that allowed continued planting of GE sugar beets, forcing environmental groups back into count to challenge the agency conduct. The district court ruled that seedlings planted pursuant to the permits must be destroyed. An Appellate Court, however,  overturned that decision in February 2011. That same month APHIS announced that it will grant Monsanto’s request for a partial deregulation allowing planting of GE sugar beets with certain limitations until the agency conducts the court-ordered assessments.

George Kimbrell, Senior Attorney with the Center for Food Safety (CFS), one of the plaintiffs in the case, told me that CFS was “disappointed” with the agency’s decision and that CFS is reviewing the 800-plus page assessments to determine if any action is warranted.

The agency will finalize its deregulation recommendation after making both assessments publicly available for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register which is said to hit the presses on Jun 8, 2012.