So Whats the Deal with Roundup Ready Sugarbeets?

December 11, 2009

Sugarbeet farmers are anxiously following every step of the litigation surrounding the deregulation of Monsanto’s GenuityTM Roundup Ready Sugarbeets technology to determine what it means for next year’s seed purchases.

Briefly for those that haven’t been following: in January 2008, the Center for Food Safety along with Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club and High Mowing Organic Seeds initiated legal action challenging the USDA’s deregulation of Roundup Ready sugarbeets. In September 2009, a judge ruled that the USDA would have to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Roundup Ready sugarbeets. The ruling focused on the process USDA used and did not question the safety or benefits of the technology. Read the sugarbeet industry’s response to the decision here.

Last Friday, the judge held a case management conference to decide how the court will proceed with the next phase of litigation. The court schedule for further proceedings is as follows:

  • A settlement conference with a U.S. Magistrate is no later than Feb. 4, 2010.
  • Oral arguments on proposed remedies on June 11, 2010.

The September decision and this latest conference has no immediate effect for either growers producing biotech sugarbeets or the processors.  Sugarbeet growers can harvest their crops and process them as usual. Thus far, the court hasn’t taken any action that would prevent farmers from having the option to plant Roundup Ready sugarbeets next year.

For more updates on this litigation, please continue to follow Beyond the Rows and check out the Sugar Industry Biotech Council Web site at www.sugarindustrybiotechcouncil.org.

Learn more about Genuity Roundup Ready Sugarbeets from MonsantoToday.com.

Sugarbeets 101

TheForecast Looks Sweet

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Hi, I’m Alan Welp and I’m a Sugarbeet Farmer

5 Responses to “So Whats the Deal with Roundup Ready Sugarbeets?”


  1. From what I’ve read it’s more of a cross pollination issue than anything else. The patented sugar beets can cross pollinate with other types of plants being grown for seed, and not just beets.

    There’s no way to prevent this other than very large buffers. If the sugar beets cross with other plants being grown for seed, not only are the seeds now not pure, they loose their organic certification (High Mowing Seeds is an organic certified seed producer) if they’re being produced for the organic market, and what happens when the patented trait starts showing up in contaminated seed distributed to other farmers and gardeners? Now, technically, would we be in violation of Monsanto’s patent(s)?

    Cross contamination is also a concern with canola growing in the Willamette valley of Oregon. Doesn’t matter if it’s patented canola or not, it’s purely a cross pollination issue in the vegetable seed industry, and there’s quite a bit of vegetable seed grown in the Willamette valley.

    I have a very small diversified farm and grow a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, etc. I save almost no seed because I have so many types of plants that can cross. The vegetable seed producers are incredibly important to farms like mine and others. They are just as important to us as Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer HiBred, etc. are to farmers growing your products.

  2. Mica Says:

    Joanne – I read the issue the same as you—questions regarding cross pollination as well as weed resistance are at the heart of this.

    Cross pollination, or adventitious presence as we sometimes call it, is something that beet seed farmers have always had to deal with. To your point, sugarbeet seed can cross pollinate with swiss chard and table beet and so seed producers have had to ensure that they put in place the appropriate protocols to prevent this from happening. Since WWII in fact, when the Willamette Valley became home to table beets, chard and sugarbeets (a fact I picked up from the Genetic Maize blog.) The risk is no greater with Roundup Ready sugarbeets than it is with conventional. The regulatory authorities have already determined that there is no health or safety risk associated with the technology. Anastasia at Genetic Maize did a great write-up recently on the cross-pollination issue, which I recommend.

    Regardless of the production system – conventional, organic or biotech – 100 percent purity is not, and never has been, feasible.

    Adventitious presence does not violate the organic certification regulations, since the certification is on the product not the process. Just as organic certification is not withheld due to the presence of “conventional” genetics in their seed or on unintended spray drift on the crop. USDA National Organic Program Standards

    It is has never been Monsanto’s policy to sue farmers when trace amounts of our seeds are present in the farmer’s field as result of inadvertent means (i.e., wind, animal, etc.) For information on Monsanto’s seed patent policies please check out the Monsanto Seed Patent Protection site.

    I’m not the scientific or the agronomic expert on cross pollination, but your comments highlight the need to have a discussion about this topic. And perhaps not just on sugarbeet but across crops.

    I understand your concerns about cross pollination on your own farm and it sounds like you take that into account in your operations. I would assume that, as you point out, your seed producers are taking all of the appropriate steps to ensure they deliver to you the product you want in the form you want it in, just as we do with our customers. Have your producers expressed concern to you that this will not be the case?


    • I haven’t heard of any concerns that my seed suppliers would not be able to supply seed.

      As I understand it, the concerns that organic seed suppliers have with GM traits is contamination with GM traits being a potential cause of disqualification of their seeds for organic certification. It was my understanding that seed for organic production can’t have traits that were originally introduced into a species through recombinant technology. If that were the case, then cross pollination with a recombinant crop would compromise a seed crop’s organic certification.

      While I follow many organic practices, I am not certified organic, nor do I intend to seek organic certification.

      The information I have regarding the GMO vs Organic issues are from listening to organic seed producers, who I think know better than I if a GMO, regardless of whether it was produced intentionally or accidentally, could be certified organic. It was my understanding that even if a GMO crop were to be cultivated on certified lands, using organic certified methods, that it still wouldn’t qualify as organic, strictly because it was a GMO crop. But perhaps I’m mistaken.

      Is anyone using seed bearing any of Monsanto’s GM traits to produce certified organic crops in the USA? I’d be interested in learning about them.

  3. Mica Says:

    First, I need to correct my post above. What I meant to say but mistyped was that organic certification certifies the process in which a crop was produced NOT the quality or composition of the crop. Organic standards are process based not product based.

    You are right that GMO seed is not allowed to be used in production under organic standards. But, if producers have followed the regulations set by the standards board and taken reasonable precautions to avoid the presence of “excluded methods” then it doesn’t affect certification. Here is the specific language I pulled from the National Organics Standards Board. This is at http://www.ams.usda.gov in the NOP Regulations section under Applicability Preamble. This is the direct link: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateF&navID=NOPPoliciesandProceduresRegulations&rightNav1=NOPPoliciesandProceduresRegulations&topNav=&leftNav=NationalOrganicProgram&page=NOPRegulations&resultType=&acct=noprulemaking

    “It has always been the responsibility of organic operations to manage potential contact of organic products with other substances not approved for use in organic production systems, whether from the nonorganic portion of a split operation or from neighboring farms. The organic system plan must outline steps that an organic operation will take to avoid this kind of unintentional contact.

    When we are considering drift issues, it is particularly important to remember that organic standards are process based. Certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices that meet the requirements of the Act and the regulations. This regulation prohibits the use of excluded methods in organic operations. The presence of a detectable residue of a product of excluded methods alone does not necessarily constitute a violation of this regulation. As long as an organic operation has not used excluded methods and takes reasonable steps to avoid contact with the products of excluded methods as detailed in their approved organic system plan, the unintentional presence of the products of excluded methods should not affect the status of an organic product or operation.”

    I don’t believe anyone would knowingly be using our seed to produce certified organic crops. At least I hope not since that would be a violation of the regulation. But like you, I’m interested in hearing more about this from seed producers.

  4. Joseph Says:

    While it’s true that organic is process not product based certification, use of genetically engineered seed is prohibited. An organic farmer cannot knowingly plant GE seed. If organic seed crop is contaminated by GE pollen it then contains seed that is genetically engineered (in whatever percentage). An organic seed seller would be selling seed that is clearly a prohibited input in organic systems. Now, they don’t need to tell their customer it’s been contaminated (or even test), but that puts them in an ethical quandary – knowingly selling an input that, if the producer knows it has GE seed in the bag, is prohibited. This is how I heard one of the actual plaintiff’s explain it at a conference last winter. Seems like a fair case of contamination impacting their market, and even if their market is smaller than the GE sugarbeet market, it has to be protected.


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