This year we are witnessing the dawn of the Obama-era USDA, one where biotech interests seemingly trump the rule of law. Several genetically engineered crops are being rammed through the regulatory approval process without serious scientific scrutiny or public input in 2011.
In a genuinely astounding move, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to ignore a court order and continue to allow the planting of Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beets – genetically engineered to withstand the company's patented herbicide. This decision came one week after the agency's highly-controversial assertion that Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa does not need to be commercially restricted in any way.
“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).
“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.”
The USDA made the announcement last Friday when it declared that the regulated status for GE sugar beet seed production will remain in place. The OTA, a membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America, has ardently opposed any action by the USDA regarding GE beets until a final Environmental Impact Statement is completed. In 2009 when the USDA tried a similar move, a federal judge found that non-regulated status for GE sugar beets violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
On January 26, the OTA joined other organic associations as amici curiae in an ongoing lawsuit to stop the continued planting of GE sugar beets.
The OTA has a vested interest in seeing to it that biotech products aren't planted, something it has made clear in a recent press release:
“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.”
Bushway says that this is yet another victory the USDA has handed the well-funded biotech industry at the expense of the environment, economy and public health.
“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. “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.”