Sugar-Beet Flip-Floppers, and Other Sustainability News

Estabrook_Newsbites_11-1_post.jpg

Wikimedia Commons


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
full crop.

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.

Bye-Bye BPA?

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.


MORE ON BPA:
John Hendel: New Evidence Against BPA
John Hendel: Is It Harmful?

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.

Presented by

Barry Estabrook is a former contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He blogs at politicsoftheplate.com. More

Barry Estabrook was formerly a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. Stints working on a dairy farm and commercial fishing boat as a young man convinced him that writing about how food was produced was a lot easier than actually producing it. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He lives on a 30-acre tract in Vermont, where he gardens and tends a dozen laying hens, and his work also appears at politicsoftheplate.com.

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in Health

Just In