Opponents of biotech crops filed a federal lawsuit yesterday challenging the deregulation of Monsanto Company’s genetically engineered sugar beet by the United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA).
The Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Organic Seed Alliance and High Mowing Organic Seeds are asking for an in-depth assessment of the environmental, health, and economic impacts of the deregulation, which is required by federal law.
These beets, called ‘Roundup Ready’, have been engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. According to the groups involved in the lawsuit, the beets are scheduled to be grown on a commercial scale starting this year.
The opponents say that because the GE sugar beets are wind-pollinated, there is a strong possibility that pollen from these beets could contaminate non-GE sugar beets and other crops that grow nearby, such as organic chard and table beets.
Cross-pollination is not the only concern. According to some scientific studies the applications of Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide, significantly increase when Roundup Ready crops are grown. This in turn causes the creation of Roundup-resistant ‘super weeds’.
The sugar produced from these sugar beets, which may contain higher levels of the herbicide glyphosphate, could be included in products such as bread, breakfast cereals and candy. Right now none of those products will require labeling to indicate the presence of sugar from Roundup Ready sugar beets.
The USDA says the government deregulated Monsanto’s sugar beet in March 2005 after an environmental assessment found no significant impact.
Monsanto issued the following statement: ‘The value our technology brings to farmers and the environment is proven and well known. Monsanto, our partners, licensees and growers are good stewards of the technology and we all manage the technology in a responsible way’.
Last year after a similar lawsuit was filed over the USDA’s deregulation of Monsanto’s genetically-altered alfalfa, a federal judge issued a nationwide ban against the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa.