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Last August, Federal Judge Jeffrey White issued a stinging rebuke to the USDA for its process on approving new genetically modified seeds. He ruled that the agency’s practice of “deregulating” novel seed varieties without first performing an environmental impact study violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
The target of Judge White’s ire was the USDA’s 2005 approval of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets, engineered to withstand doses of the company’s own herbicide. White’s ruling effectively revoked the approval of Monsanto’s novel beet seeds pending an environmental impact study, and cast doubt upon the USDA’s notoriously industry-friendly way of regulating GM seeds.
A rigorous environmental impact assessment would not likely be kind to Roundup Ready sugar beets. First, sugar-beet seeds are cultivated mainly in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, also an important seed-production area for crops closely related to sugar beets, such as organic chard and table beets. The engineered beets could easily cross-pollinate with the other varieties, causing severe damage to a key resource for organic and other non-GMO farmers. Second, Monsanto’s already-unregulated Roundup Ready crops — corn, soy, and cotton — have unleashed a plague of Roundup-resistant “superweeds,” forcing farmers to apply ever-higher doses of Roundup and other weed-killing poisons. Finally, the Roundup herbicide itself is proving much less ecologically benign than advertised, as Tom Laskawy has shown.