Archive for the ‘Biotech’ Category

Battle Over Beets Continues

Environmental groups failed to show that seed plants for Roundup Ready Sugar Beets would cause irreparable harm, a federal appeals court said Friday. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a  previous injunction that called for the destruction of the plants.

“We conclude the district court abused its discretion in granting a preliminary injunction requiring destruction of the steckling plants,” the court wrote. “Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that the … plants present a possibility, much less a likelihood, of genetic contamination or other irreparable harm. The undisputed evidence indicates that the stecklings pose a negligible risk of genetic contamination, as the juvenile plants are biologically incapable of flowering or cross-pollinating before February 28, 2011, when the permits expire.”

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USDA Announces Partial Deregulation of Biotech Sugar Beets

The Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced Friday it will partially deregulate biotech sugar beets. The decision means farmers can resume plantings of sugar beets that had been barred by a federal judge.

“After conducting an environmental assessment, accepting and reviewing public comments and conducting a plant pest 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,” said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS’ biotechnology regulatory services.

More than half of the nation’s granulated sugar has in recent years come from Roundup Ready beets. The other half comes from sugar cane.

Sugar beet growers welcomed the decision.

“The decision is a win for consumers,” said Duane Grant, a beet farmer in Rupert, Idaho, and chairman of the farmer-owned Snake River Sugar Company. “It assures a full beet crop will be planted in 2011.”

USDA Announces Deregulation of Biotech Alfalfa

The Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Thursday announced its decision to grant non-regulated status for alfalfa that has been genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide commercially known as Roundup.

“After conducting a thorough and transparent examination of alfalfa through a multi-alternative environmental impact statement and several public comment opportunities, APHIS has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “All of the alfalfa production stakeholders involved in this issue have stressed their willingness to work together to find solutions. We greatly appreciate and value the work they’ve done so far and will continue to provide support to the wide variety of sectors that make American agriculture successful.”

After releasing a final environmental impact statement in December 2010, USDA took another step to ensure that this issue received the broadest examination before making its final decision. USDA brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss feasible strategies for coexistence between genetically engineered, organic and other stakeholders. The stakeholders helped to identify areas of consensus; issues where the group disagreed and opportunities for further dialogue; and areas where USDA could—or should—play an important and helpful role.

Farm Bureau is pleased with the announcement, as it clears up uncertainty for producers and allows them to move forward with planting decisions.

Ag blogger Emily Zweber explains in this post, what the deregulation means for her family farm.

(Image: Pro-Soil Ag Solutions)

Guest Commentary

The Problem with Roundup Ready Alfalfa

By Rob Jones

Round-Up Ready alfalfa?  When I first heard about this I was puzzled why a company would risk so much investment in a crop that is characterized by taking care of itself when it comes to weeds.  Sure it takes a while to get it established, but cover-cropping, extra care weeding before planting, planting into stubble, nurse cropping, can all help minimize weed pressure while getting started.

As for prolonging alfalfa stands, I think there is a misconception that weeds kill out alfalfa.  If an alfalfa stand begins to thin, it’s because of soil imbalances, not weeds, otherwise weeds would take over immediately.

Honestly, contamination is a serious issue. So what is the answer to the dilemma?

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USDA U-Turn on Roundup Ready Alfalfa

Despite a previous committment to full deregulation of biotech alfalfa, Sec. Tom Vilsack (right) is now entertaining the idea of releasing the crop with various restrictions.

Despite the USDA’s own proposal from last year, Sec. Vilsack’s department is now reversing course on deregulating Roundup Ready Alfalfa. According to the Department’s environmental review, the alfalfa was judged substantially equivalent to other varieties without red flags for regulators. But instead of taking the news as a green light to let the alfalfa on the market, as they have with other biotech plants like corn, USDA is waffling.

Now, the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa could be accompanied by restrictions on seed production and, in some cases, cultivation of the hay itself, should USDA decide on implementing one of two preferred alternatives presented in a court-ordered environmental review of the crop.

The Wall Street Journal has strong words about the decision to “invite representatives from the biotech and organic industries to USDA in the coming days to discuss how the two farming methods may coexist.”

By suggesting that industry and activist groups negotiate compromises in advance of the final ruling on whether to deregulate, Mr. Vilsack is using the Department’s regulatory authority as leverage against businesses whose products are overwhelmingly regulated by USDA.

It gets worse. Mr. Vilsack’s authority in the regulatory decision-making process is based on the assumption of sound scientific data. But according to people who attended the meeting last Monday, the USDA Secretary told the assembled groups that science itself is subjective, and that he could have three different groups bring him three different supposedly scientific opinions.

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Sugar Beet Decision Delayed Again

Genetically modified sugar beet plants that would produce seeds for the 2012 planting season can’t yet be destroyed as ordered by a judge, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled.

The U.S. Court of Appeals put on hold until Feb. 28 a judges Nov. 30 order to dig up 256 acres of sugar beet seedlings, or until it issues an order, whichever is first, according to a ruling yesterday. Environmental groups sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture to block planting permits given four companies for beets this season. The plants wont flower before the permits expire in February, so there is no risk of gene flow, the USDA said in court filings.

A New Solution for Beets

The USDA has unveiled a plan that would allow the planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2011 under strict regulations.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the USDA’s proposal represents the preliminary stage of the process and will be followed by a 30-day comment period before the department makes a final decision.  The USDA remains in a legal battle with groups seeking to halt all production and planting of the genetically engineered sugar beets because of concerns that the plants contaminate nearby non-biotech crops.

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