Biotech Beets: USDA Lets Farmers Resume Planting

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this month partially deregulated biotech sugar beets to allow spring planting to move forward. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service took this interim measure as it completes an environmental impact statement.

Roundup Ready sugar beets are engineered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate. After APHIS granted nonregulated status to the seed crop in 2005, farmers quickly adopted Roundup Ready sugar beets. The technology enables them to control weeds without plowing or turning over the soil, which reduces the impact on the environment. But in recent years, genetically engineered sugar beets have been subject to ongoing litigation.

“After conducting an environmental assessment, accepting and reviewing public comments and conducting a plant-risk assessment, APHIS has determined that the Roundup Ready sugar beet root crop, when grown under APHIS imposed conditions, can be partially deregulated without posing a plant-pest risk or having a significant effect on the environment,” says Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS’ biotechnology regulatory services. 

BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood supports the decision to partially deregulate the biotech sugar beets while APHIS completes its environmental impact statement, a lengthy process that’s expected to take until summer 2012.

“Sugar beets are planted on more than one million acres in 10 states and produce nearly half our nation’s sugar supply,” Greenwood says. “The ongoing litigation has created uncertainty for farmers, sugar producers, technology providers and researchers, which in turn has hurt our agriculture sector and rural economies.”

APHIS now allows the continued cultivation of the Roundup Ready sugar beets under carefully tailored measures. Growers must enter into a compliance agreement that outlines mandatory requirements for how the crop can be grown.

BIO hopes this partial deregulation, along with a recent decision made on Roundup Ready alfalfa, will spur new technologies. “Biotechnology can help crops thrive in drought-prone areas, improve the nutritional content of foods, grow alternative energy sources and improve the lives of farmers and rural communities around the globe,” Greenwood says.