Organic Farmers Prepare to Deliver a "Beet" Down to the Feds and Big Business
The flashpoint in a heated battle between organic farmers, big business, the federal government, and consumers is centered on a small, white tuber – the sugar beet.
After a shocking decision on January 27 in which the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) fully deregulated genetically modified alfalfa, the decision to defy an August 2010 federal court order banning the planting of genetically modified (GM) sugar beets sent shockwaves around the organic community.
What’s the big deal?
GM plants are designed to resist Monsanto’s Roundup, a powerful chemical that destroys all crops it comes in contact with – except those that are engineered in a lab to resist the active ingredient.
The weeds die, the crop lives; roundup residue and all. Complicating the issue further is that Monsanto owns the patents to GM seeds, and farmers – no matter how small – must reach a licensing agreement with the company to grow them. The documentary The Future of Food (available for streaming on Hulu and Netflix) tells the stories of several farmers who are bankrupted after their fields become contaminated with Monsanto’s GM crops.
The decision on February 4 to defy a federal court decision impacted not only the organic farmers who are trying to keep their fields free from GM sugar beets, but the consumers who eat them.
According to the Wall Street Journal, half of the granulated sugar produced in the United States comes from sugar beets, half from sugar cane. Without the production of GM sugar beets, the cost of granulated sugar is likely to rise. Are consumers willing to pay more to sate their sweet tooth? That remains to be seen.
So will that spoonful of sugar in your morning coffee also give you a dose of Roundup? Maybe not. In a bit of good news, the Wall Street Journal reports that “the USDA is also banning the production of genetically modified sugar beets in some places where seeds for organic beets are produced, such as in California and parts of Washington state.
In other places, the USDA won't allow genetically modified sugar beets to be grown within four miles of seed being raised for conventional versions of beet-like plants.”
If you want to make your opinion known on the matter, there are several petitions making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook. Then again, you can always vote with one of your most powerful tools – your grocery dollars.