November 4, 2010
Today, USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released for public comment an environmental assessment (EA) in support of the agency’s proposal to allow the planting of genetically engineered H7-1 sugar beets. The H7-1 sugar beet has been genetically modified by Monsanto to resist the herbicide glyphosate. APHIS regulates GE plants under the Plant Protection Act.
The proposed planting would be allowed in the primary sugar beet root or seed production states of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. It would also allow the interstate movement and importation of H7-1 sugar beets within and into the U.S. Comments on the EA must be submitted by December 6. The notice of for the EA and information on submitting comments is posted here.
The EA gives short shrift to environmental and economic issues arising from the widespread resistance of weeds to glyphosate, which has increased dramatically with the use of Roundup Ready corn, cotton and soybeans on millions of acres. It ignores that fact that Monsanto has been paying cotton farmers some of the costs of using other herbicides on their fields, instead of glyphosate, to try reduce the resistance problem. The company recently announced that it will be paying soybean farmers to increase their use of other herbicides as well.
The APHIS proposal comes in the midst of legal challenges brought by the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club and High Mowing Organic Seeds against release of the GE sugar beets. In 2005, USDA approved the planting of the H7-1 sugar beets without an environmental impact statement (EIS). In September 2009, in the case Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, a federal District Court in California ruled that USDA’s decision to deregulate the H7-1 sugar beet and allow its commercial release without preparing a full environmental impact statement (EIS) violated the National Environmental Policy Act. The court gave USDA time to implement interim requirements for planting to reduce environmental harm that could occur until the EIS was completed.
In August 2010, the court issued an order vacating the original decision of APHIS to release the GE sugar beets for commercial release, noting that the agency had not implemented the interim measures to protect the environment. The court denied APHIS’ request for an additional nine months to consider interim measures for GE sugar beets pending the full environmental review.
Despite that ruling, and without environmental review, in September 2010, USDA issued permits to allow the planting of H7-1 sugar beet seedlings. The plaintiffs challenged that action and asked for a temporary restraining order against USDA. The court agreed that the agency’s action violated NEPA and issued an order for additional hearings on whether the court should enjoin USDA from issuing any further permits or allowing any further plantings of GE sugar beets under the permits that it issued. The court will also consider the plaintiff’s request that seedlings already planted be dug up.
In its new proposal for widespread GE sugar beet planting, supported only with only an EA, APHIS again appears to be trying to avoid the requirement to prepare a full comprehensive EIS before approving plantings of the GE sugar beets. The Center for Food Safety has announced that it would launch a legal challenge to any final decision of USDA to allow additional GE sugar beet planting without completion of a full EIS.
Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment