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OTA deplores USDA action to proceed with genetically engineered sugar beets despite court order

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Organic Trade Association

Contact: Barbara Haumann (802-275-3820; bhaumann@ota.com)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb, 7, 2011)— The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made a decision to continue to allow planting of St Louis based-Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets despite a court order to complete a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before making any decision on deregulation for genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets. The crop in question is genetically altered to tolerate increased application of toxic herbicides. Astoundingly, this decision comes one week after the USDA decision to release Roundup Ready alfalfa without restriction. Monsanto owns both the Roundup herbicide and the genetically altered crops.

“Once again, USDA has plowed ahead on genetically engineered crops, this time to approve a petition for partial deregulation, even though the courts have found that USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) failed to comply with National Environmental Policy Act mandates,” said Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

She added, “This direct affront to farmer and consumer choice flies in the face of USDA’s mandate and greatly jeopardizes agricultural diversity and the future of rural American livelihoods.”

In its announcement Friday, USDA did keep regulated status for GE sugar beet seed production. However, OTA decried any movement by USDA to act at this point without completing the final EIS.

Unrestricted commercialization of GE crops—86 percent of the country’s corn and 93 percent of soybeans—has resulted in widespread unlabeled presence of GE materials in mainstream food products unbeknownst to the average consumer. The USDA organic program is the only federal food label that prohibits the use of GE crops or materials. Currently, the organic sector bears the burden created by unchecked release of GE crops. According to USDA, 95 percent of sugar beets grown in the United States are genetically modified to tolerate Monsanto’s herbicide, even though in 2009, the courts decided that non-regulated status violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

OTA filed public comment on Dec. 6 calling on USDA to not move forward with genetically altered sugar beets in any manner without completing the EIS. On Jan 26, OTA joined other organic companies and interests to sign on as amici curiae in the ongoing litigation to halt the continued planting of GE sugar beets.

“It is amazing that we find ourselves in this situation where the average consumer has no idea the extent of genetic engineering in the domestic sugar supply,” Bushway said. She added that releasing GE crops into the environment has the potential for environmental, health, and economic impacts that USDA is failing to take seriously as it hands another victory to the well-funded and influential biotech industry.

“The expected impact of this decision is far reaching, particularly to organic farmers and consumers. With 21 petitions for other new genetically altered crops pending, we are left to wonder how future farmer and consumer choice can be maintained under the current circumstances,” Bushway said.