Sugar beets still in the game

Seed producers will be allowed to plant biotech sugar beets again following a September decision from the United States Department of Agriculture’s crop approval arm to allow planting under interim guidelines. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will issue limited permits to seed developers authorizing genetically modified (GM) beet planting this fall as long as the harvested beets are not allowed to flower. The permits are a legal way around a federal judge’s 13 August decision to ban all commercial farming of Monsanto’s Genuity Roundup Ready sugar beets beyond that date. GM sugar beets planted before the ruling may be harvested, processed and sold without restriction and the beets remain eligible for future commercial approval pending USDA/APHIS’s full environmental review of the beets. A federal judge had revoked APHIS’s beet deregulation and prohibited further planting and sale on the grounds that the agency had not adequately considered the potentially irreparable harm GM beets might cause related species through cross-fertilization (Nat. Biotechnol. 27, 970, 2009). APHIS has announced it will expedite the sugar beets review, which will take about two years. Luther Markwart, of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association and Sugar Industry Biotech Council, Washington, DC, says GM beet farmers, who grow 95% of the US crop, already voluntarily maintain 4-mile isolation from related crops to prevent cross-fertilization. “Most of the interim measures that we’re looking at…are things that we’re already doing,” he says.

First published by Nature Biotechnology: [html] [pdf].