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Published November 09, 2010, 08:28 AM

Crystal boss says APHIS draft welcome, but won’t settle biotech beet issue

MOORHEAD, Minn. — Officials of American Crystal Sugar Co. say the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed options of allowing Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2011 is not unexpected, but likely faces legal challenges. So the industry must continue to try to cope with a potential ban goes in 2011.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

MOORHEAD, Minn. — Officials of American Crystal Sugar Co. say the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed options of allowing Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2011 is not unexpected, but likely faces legal challenges. So the industry must continue to try to cope with a potential ban goes in 2011.

“We’re not going to sit here and hope for the right result,” says David Berg, president and chief executive officer for the Moorhead-based beet cooperative. “We’re going to work to prepare ourselves for different eventualities.”

Berg says his company must be ready with conventional seed and conventional chemicals if genetically modified beets aren’t available. He says, however, that his company hasn’t “bought anything or contracted for anything” in the way of seed or chemicals needed for a conventional crop.

On Nov. 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued a press release about a “draft environmental assessment,” which has three options that include “partial deregulation or some similar administrative action” to allow the use of Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2011. The release makes clear that if this is the final recommendation, commercial planting would be allowed under “carefully-tailored interim measures” proposed by APHIS. The draft becomes official when it is published in the Nov. 4 Federal Register.

The APHIS announcement is in response to a request from Monsanto Co. and KWS SAAT AG, to allow the planting of the genetically engineered plants. Roundup Ready beets are tolerant to glyphosate (Roundup) herbicide.

Industry in limbo

USDA’s earlier approval of the technology was challenged in court by the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club and organic seed groups. These groups successfully argued the USDA improperly didn’t conduct a full environmental impact statement. The EIS will be completed by the end of May 2012, but the challenge has put the industry in limbo.

Regarding the commercial planting decision, Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS’ biotechnology regulatory services, says, “APHIS takes its role in protecting plant health very seriously and is well aware of the importance of this decision for sugar beet growers and processors.”

The APHIS draft environmental assessment evaluates three options. The agency’s preferred alternative would allow production of Roundup Ready beets under “strict APHIS permit conditions,” the release says.

The agency’s preferred option is No. 2 of the three. The three options:

n Deny the request for partial deregulation or any similar administrative action. This would halt authorization of production until APHIS completes the EIS.

n Authorize the production of Roundup-Ready sugar beets under APHIS permit subject to mandatory conditions to prevent any potential plant pest risks.

n Grant the petition request for partial deregulation to allow the production of Roundup Ready sugar beets. Here, APHIS would grant the petition for partial deregulation and no longer regulate Roundup Ready sugar beets. The cultivation would be allowed under conditions imposed by Monsanto/KWS through technology stewardship agreements.

Of alternative No. 2, the agency says, “The mandatory conditions outlined in the permits would work to minimize any potential for the escape and dissemination of plant pests and the likelihood of environmental impacts of concern raised by the Court.”

A draft environmental assessment will be open for comment for 30 days. APHIS will review the comments before Dec. 6 to determine whether to grant the supplemental request for partial deregulation.

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