OSA to Challenge USDA’s Approval of GE Sugar Beets

For Immediate Release: February 4, 2011

Contact: Kristina Hubbard, Director of Advocacy, (406) 493-6965, kristina@seedalliance.org

OSA to Challenge USDA’s Approval of Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets: Partial Deregulation Comes Before Court-Ordered EIS

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that it is allowing genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets to be planted before its court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is complete. Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) will once again challenge the agency in court alongside other coalition members represented by the Center for Food Safety. The decision comes just one week after USDA’s full deregulation GE alfalfa.

In November 2010, USDA proposed a “partial deregulation” of GE sugar beets under a permitting process. This is a means to temporarily commercialize GE sugar beets while the EIS is conducted. USDA permits have historically only been used for experimental field trials, not wide-scale, commercial releases.

“USDA’s decision dismisses the adverse economic effects that contamination by GE sugar beets will have on organic and non-GE seeds and crops,” says Kristina Hubbard with Organic Seed Alliance. “This is a threat the agency continues to minimize.”

As evidenced also by last week’s deregulation of GE alfalfa, USDA continues to put the interests of the biotechnology industry before those of farmers and consumers who choose to plant and eat organic and non-GE products. Farmers have a right to purchase seed that is uncontaminated and the freedom to operate without ongoing fear, expense, and constraints on choice caused by the commercial planting of GE sugar beets. The courts have also stated that consumers have the right to choose GE-free food.

OSA has little confidence that USDA’s oversight of GE sugar beet seed production is adequate for protecting the integrity of organic seed. USDA’s own Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office have both criticized the agency’s oversight of GE crops.

If contamination is not prevented, the burden of protecting the integrity of seed, agricultural products, and markets is solely on the shoulders of farmers who choose organic and non-GE seed. This is an unfair burden that is exacerbated by USDA’s decision to release a GE crop that the federal court deemed improperly deregulated, especially before the findings of a full EIS are released.

“OSA works hard to create economic opportunities for farmers through participation in healthy, regional seed production and marketing systems that add value to their farm,” says David Lively with Oregon-based Organically Grown Company and board member of Organic Seed Alliance. “USDA’s decision affects current and future opportunities for farmers. The reality is simple: When farmers lose the genetic purity of their seed, they lose their freedom to operate free of GE contamination.”

Read OSA’s December 2010 comments in response to USDA’s proposal.

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