USDA could deregulate Roundup Ready sugar beets

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture may deregulate Roundup Ready sugar beets, a move that would allow farmers to plant the genetically modified seeds without restriction.

USDA officials recommended the change after the agency completed court-ordered environmental assessments on Roundup Ready sugar beets. Because the seeds are partially regulated now, farmers must keep records of where they are planted.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service(APHIS) did two assessments, a Final Environmental Impact Statement and Plant Pest Risk Assessment before the agency made its recommendation. The agency will take public comment for 30 days before releasing its final decision.

The herbicide resistant sugar beet plants are already used by nearly all sugar beet growers, but USDA was forced to complete a full environmental assessment after environmental groups and organic growers sued the USDA in 2008.

They contend genetically modified beets will cross pollinate with organic crops, particularly in the pacific northwest, where much of the sugar beet seed is grown.

A federal judge subsequently ruled USDA must complete an environmental assessment of the genetically modified crop.

USDA will likely announce it’s final decision to deregulate Roundup Ready sugar beets this summer. The legal wrangling may continue much longer.

The largest sugar beet producing area in the country is in the Red River Valley of northwest Minnesota and eastern North Dakota.

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