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Published March 05, 2010, 12:00 AM

Forum editorial: Sugar seed injunction real threat

A court ruling today in San Francisco regarding genetically modified sugar beet seed could have a devastating impact on the Red River Valley’s beet growers and negative fallout for the region’s economy.

A court ruling today in San Francisco regarding genetically modified sugar beet seed could have a devastating impact on the Red River Valley’s beet growers and negative fallout for the region’s economy. A federal judge is expected to decide whether to slap an injunction on the use of popular Roundup Ready seed until USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service completes an environmental impact assessment – a process that could take several years.

The immediate result in the valley would be major disruptions in the sugar beet industry. Farmers either have made planting plans or are doing so now. Expensive seed – most of it genetically modified seed – has been purchased. The hit to the valley’s sugar beet growers could be significant.

Minnesota and North Dakota rank No. 1 and No. 2 in sugar beet production in the nation. About

90 percent of beet seed planted in the valley is genetically modified Roundup Ready seed from Monsanto, all of which is produced in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Organic farmers there claim pollen from the beet seed could taint their crops, making them worthless on the organic market. That’s the basis of today’s hearing.

The timing could not be worse for valley sugar beet growers. If an injunction is granted, farmers would be hard-pressed to find enough conventional seed. If short supplies could not meet demand, seed prices would skyrocket, further putting area growers at a disadvantage.

The benefits of Roundup Ready seed have been proven in the valley. It results in less traditional herbicide application. Migrant field workers are not needed to weed beet fields.

Not only do the Oregon organic farmers want to ban genetically modified sugar beet seed, they also want to bar the sale of sugar made from genetically modified beets. That’s just ridiculous on several levels.

First, such a ban would reduce the U.S. sugar supply, a situation that in time could destroy the U.S. industry because the door might be open to more imports of foreign sugar. Second, Roundup Ready beets have been grown for seed for seven years with no proven detrimental effects detected on organic farms or elsewhere.

The federal judge hearing the case today has a responsibility to consider potential economic damage and legitimate science when ruling on the injunction. If those factors are weighed fairly, no injunction will be imposed.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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