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.
Ultimately, the questions about BPA's future might be made by the food products industry. A recent survey of 26 major food and beverage companies conducted by Green Century Capital Management, a "green" investment group, showed that 32 percent of the firms had internal plans to phase out BPA, up dramatically from the 7 percent who had such plans a year ago.
If that trend continues, there will be nothing left for bureaucrats and industry advocates to squabble over.
An Unsustainable Discussion
"Sustainable," like "local" and "natural," is one of those adjectives that everyone in the food business likes to apply to their products. But no one has bothered to define it.
So one has to applaud the American National Standards Institute—a non-profit organization whose mandate is to set voluntary consensus standards for products in the United States—for wading into the murky questions about exactly what the term "sustainable agriculture" should mean. In 2008, a committee of 58 representatives from across the political spectrum of food production was formed, everyone from small organic advocates and environmental organizations to executives at CropLife America, a trade group representing the agrichemical industry.