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Published June 04, 2012, 05:11 PM

Roundup Ready beets closer to deregulation

FARGO, N.D. — A U.S. Department of Agriculture statement issued Friday is another step that could fully deregulate Roundup Ready sugar beets.

By: Mikkel Pates,

FARGO, N.D. — A U.S. Department of Agriculture statement issued Friday is another step that could fully deregulate Roundup Ready sugar beets.

A final decision by USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service isn’t likely until August, so growers must continue to take precautions as they have under “partial deregulation” for the past two years, said Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.

Markwart said the industry is still studying a printout of a report released electronically on June 1. The Environmental Impact Statement has been sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It won’t officially be printed in the Federal Register until June 8. “That starts a 30-day clock for public review and comment,” Markwart said.

Based on those comments, APHIS makes a record of decision, or ROD, which would become the law of the land on whether the crop is deregulated.

Joe Talley, chief operating officer of American Crystal Sugar Co., based in Moorhead, said cooperative officials are studying the EIS. “Preliminarily, it looks like we are pleased with the EIS, but it’s not finalized,” he said, noting there is potential for it to change between now and when it’s finally issued.

Roundup Ready sugar beets are resistant to the herbicide, whose generic name is glyphosate. Monsanto used genetic modification to change the crop to allow it to resist the herbicide, which can kill a broad range of weeds safely. Numerous crops have Roundup Ready technology, but it is relatively new for sugar beets, for which weed control is often difficult and expensive.

Some environmental groups and others oppose GM crops in general and sued USDA for allowing deregulation of the crop without a full EIS.

Roundup Ready beets have been planted in experimental trials in 2006 and in Wyoming commercially in 2007. In the Red River Valley, the first Roundup Ready beet crop was planted in 2008, but — after lawsuits filed January 2008 — farmers have grown the crop in 2011 and 2012 under extra reporting and monitoring rules, pending the outcome of lawsuits. The purpose of the extra rules is to prevent the production of seed, which is highly unlikely. Most sugar beets grown in the Red River Valley are now Roundup Ready, despite the extra reporting.

“Until you get the ROD, the industry will continue to operate under the partial deregulation,” Markwart said. He understands APHIS can take a couple of weeks or more after a comment period to make its final decision.

Markwart acknowledged that APHIS said in the EIS that its preference is full deregulation, but the final decision isn’t known until the ROD is finalized. He declined to speculate on what legal challenges could come if the agency chose full deregulation. Environmental groups sued to challenge an ROD that was issued allowing the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa, but it isn’t clear whether the two cases are analogous.

In a separate but related issue, the Center for Food Safety sued USDA for allowing partial deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets without an EIS (which has now been completed).

That case has a court date of June 22 in front of U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in the District of Columbia. The Center for Food Safety is trying to stop the partial deregulation. Some sugar industry plaintiffs have challenged some of the conditions of the partial deregulation. It isn’t clear how the EIS issued by APHIS, June, 1, might affect the timing and outcome of that case, Markwart said.

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