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Judge's ruling on GE beets exposes inherent danger in prevailing food system

by Chris Hinyub, published

If you haven't been following the GE beet legal saga, there are a few things you should know:


Northern District of California judge Jeffrey White delivered two blows to the frankenfood. After overturning deregulation of genetically engineered (GE) beets until a full Environmental Impact Statement is performed, he ordered the USDA to stop all planting of Monsanto's patented sugar beet seeds in August. As a regulated plant, GE beets are now illegal to grow commercially. The USDA rushed to plant as many seeds as it could before the ruling, and in violation of the law, continued their scheme after White's decision.


On December 1, the judge ordered all of the GE beets that were planted since his first ruling to be destroyed. We now know that the USDA plans on ignoring the second court order as well and will continue to permit GE beets under what they call "partial deregulation."


The crux of the argument against genetically engineered crops resides in the latent concern over gene "outcrossing" to wild and cultivated plant species. The potential for contamination of conventional and organic crops with transgenes is high and has already proven a threat to many farmers, opponents say. Also, by exploiting the machinations of nature and the nuances of copyright law, a single biotech firm can potentially wield complete control over the seed industry and displace all heirloom seeds from the commercial market and eventually from private seed banks. What we have seen over the past several years are circumstances which confirm these fears.


Conventional farmers are only as conventional as their seed supply. The majority of industrial farmers don't save their own seed. Most can't, restrained by license agreement with biotech companies who supply their seed. As farmers lose the right and then the know-how to save seed for the next season's demands, you end up with a problem, a big problem. What is a farmer to do when his seed supplier has only GMO seeds available for purchase? Well, in the context of 2010 America and the beet farming industry in general, that farmer is out of luck at a time when his standby is "partially regulated".


It's important to realize that in just three short years since the introduction of Monsanto's GE sugar beet, beet farmers went from planting over a million acres with nothing but conventional seeds to a whopping 95% reliance on genetically altered seeds. Officials at the USDA warned of a drastic shortage of sugar supplies in the country if Judge White's injunction on GE beet planting was upheld. This is because beet farmers everywhere would be hard pressed to find a bulk supplier of non-GMO seeds. Growers in the Pacific Northwest, where the vast majority of the nation's sugar beet seed crop is produced, will have to scale back their operations considerably as we move into Spring.


One blogger sums up the matter succinctly:


     "Seed companies are being forced to make tough financial decisions to help their companies thrive and compete. If GMO seeds are selling and conventional seeds are not, they must adapt in order to continue business operations. Small companies are being bought out by large, GMO producing seed companies at an alarming rate. Other companies are reducing or completely abandoning their supplies of conventional seeds, especially open-pollinated and heirloom varieties to boost sales. Our true seed sources are diminishing right under our noses and there seems to be little concern among large, commercial growers."


So what if we invest big in the GMO hype, growing one patented crop after another, then come to realize that GMOs not only pose an ecological risk, but an imminent threat to human health as well? What do we fall back on if we stop saving the natural stuff?


There is a way to help all farmers AND avert the ecological/economic disaster promised by large scale plantings of GMOs. Force agribusinesses to downsize and compete on a level playing field with family farms by buying local produce from farmers' markets and/or CSAs. Or, start your own backyard garden. Support neighbors and friends who grow their own food. Small food producers hold the key to our survival as a species. This isn't hyperbole, this is documented fact. Heirloom gardeners and seed savers protect and strengthen genetic diversity needed for agrarian-based civilization to survive.


The beet seed shortage is real. If this "mock theater" teaches us nothing about the dangers of current government food policy (including the patenting of lifeforms, government subsidization of the products of those patents, and the failure to require labeling of GMOs), then our food system is destined for cataclysm.


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