The Sour Taste of Success
Sugar beet farmers should have been more careful when they wished for a genetically modified future.
Two years ago, after the United States Department of Agriculture gave its blessing—prematurely it turns out—to the commercial planting of genetically modified (GMO) beets that could resist Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, beet growers, along with the seed companies that supply them, the processors that buy from them, and the confectioners and soft drink manufactures that rely heavily on sugar, made a pact with the GMO devil to abandon conventional sugar beets en masse in favor of genetically modified ones.
Some observers have suggested that if any big player had stayed with conventional beet sugar, it might have gained a completive advantage because consumers have shown a preference for non-GMO products when given a choice.
GMO sugar beets went from zero to 95 percent of the U.S. crop over a couple of growing seasons. Conventional sugar beet seed all but vanished from the market.
Faced with the court-imposed ban on GMO beets, sugar beet farmers fear that there will not be enough conventional seeds for them to put in a
But Big Beet Sugar didn't get to savor its victory for long.
In August, a federal judge ruled that the USDA acted illegally by failing to undertake the required environmental assessment before it allowed GMO beets to enter the market. He said farmers could not plant the GMO seeds until a full assessment was completed.
Instead of obeying the ruling, the USDA announced plans to issue special permits that would allow farmers to plant the banned GMO beets. A group of conventional seed company and environmental groups subsequently initiated legal moves to stop the USDA's end run.
Faced with the court-imposed ban on GMO beets, sugar beet farmers, who grow about half the sugar Americans consume, fear that there will not be enough conventional seeds for them to put in a full crop. Economists at the USDA are predicting a 20-percent drop in sugar production in 2011 as a result.
The sugar industry is crying foul. But it's hard to feel sorry for them. They didn't have to abandon conventional production in the first place, and when the early court decisions went against them, they should have started looking for ways to grow more non-GMO seeds instead of seeking out legal loopholes.
A couple of weeks ago the Canadian health department declared bisphenol-A (BPA) a toxic substance, clearing the way for the government to formulate regulations limiting the use of the popular plastic, which is found in plastic-lined aluminum cans, bottles, and other packaged food containers. Earlier, Canada had banned the chemical, which can disrupt estrogen production and has been linked to birth defects and other reproductive problems, from use in baby bottles.
Environmentalists cheered the decision, and the chemical industry howled in outrage, claiming that the ruling put Canada at odds with such bodies as the European Food Safety Authority and the United States Food and Drug Administration, which continue to dither on the issue of BPA regulation.