USDA Announces Partial Deregulation of GM Sugar Beets

February 4, 2011 Bookmark and Share

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said late Friday it is partially deregulating Roundup Ready sugar beets until a larger evaluation of the environmental impact of the crop, known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), can be completed.

In a press release, APHIS said it had determined based on a less-intense review known as an environmental assessment (EA) that “when grown under APHIS imposed conditions” the crop does not pose a plant pest risk or have a significant impact on the environment.

USDA said that as part of the partial deregulation, growers of Roundup Ready sugar beet root crop will be required to enter into a “compliance agreement” outlining mandatory requirements for how the crop can be grown.

In its release on Friday, APHIS explicitly said that if the mandatory conditions are not complied with, it can revoke the partial deregulation and pursue civil or criminal penalties.

Roundup Ready sugar beets were deregulated in 2005 by USDA, but an August 2011 ruling by a U.S. District Court judge banned the planting and sale of them after determining their approval by USDA was based on insufficient analysis.

The judge required the government to conduct an EIS before approving the crop again, but that is unlikely to be done until spring 2012, leaving the 2011 crop in limbo.

Since the administrative process and not the safety of Roundup Ready sugar beets is in question, the developers of the crop asked APHIS to consider partial deregulation to allow their continued cultivation under carefully tailored measures. USDA’s ability to issue interim measures while conducting an EIS was affirmed in 2010 by the Supreme Court.

NAWG submitted comments to USDA as part of a larger coalition and with U.S. Wheat Associates regarding the request to create a framework for production of the genetically modified crop while USDA completes the EIS.

Having been deregulated for more than five years, Roundup Ready sugar beets account for more than 90 percent of the entire U.S. sugar beet crop, which means overall U.S. sugar production could plummet 20 percent or more if the genetically modified crop could not be cultivated this coming year.

More about APHIS’ decision is at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/.