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RISK ASSESSMENT & APPROVAL: U.S. public weighs in on GE sugar beet approval plan



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   PUBLIC WEIGHS IN ON SUGAR BEET PLAN

SOURCE:  Capital Press, USA

AUTHOR:  Dave Wilkins

URL:     http://www.capitalpress.com/newest/dw-beet-comment-112610

DATE:    24.11.2010

SUMMARY: "A USDA plan that would allow farmers to continue growing Roundup Ready sugar beets under strict regulation is receiving plenty of support - and criticism. More than 250 public comments concerning the plan had been filed as of Nov. 22. [...] Farmers wrote in to say that their use of the genetically engineered crop is not just a matter of convenience, but is also better for the environment because they use far fewer chemicals."

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PUBLIC WEIGHS IN ON SUGAR BEET PLAN

Food processors warn of potential sweetener shortages, spike in prices

A USDA plan that would allow farmers to continue growing Roundup Ready sugar beets under strict regulation is receiving plenty of support -- and criticism.

More than 250 public comments concerning the plan had been filed as of Nov. 22. The deadline for submitting written comments on the plan is Dec. 6. USDA will release final restrictions after that.

Farmers wrote in to say that their use of the genetically engineered crop is not just a matter of convenience, but is also better for the environment because they use far fewer chemicals.

"Roundup Ready sugar beets have been very important to our farm. The genetically modified beets only require one or two pesticide applications per year and no cultivation," Rodd Beyer of Wheaton, Minn., said in written comments.

With Roundup Ready beets, Beyer makes far fewer trips across his fields, saving hundreds of gallons of fuel each year, he wrote.

The conventional practice of spraying "a cocktail of four or five chemicals several times," plus hiring laborers to clean up weeds not killed, "is not a scenario that I or any of my farmer neighbors want to return to," wrote grower Ted Propp Jr. of Worland, Wyo.

An estimated 95 percent of the U.S. sugar beet crop was comprised of Roundup Ready varieties this year.

Some food companies also expressed concern that a ban on Roundup Ready sugar beets could lead to a domestic sugar shortage and higher food prices.

"Eliminating GMO sugar beets will cause irreparable harm to my business if sugar becomes in short supply causing significant increase in price," Daniel Abraham, of Savory Foods Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., stated in written comments.

Ernest Barbella, of Quality Food Brands Inc. in Syosset, N.Y., said his company manufacturers baking mixes and dinner kits that are supplied to food banks and relief organizations such as Feed the Children.

"If there is a court enforced ban on the use of engineered sugar beets, it will result in a drastic increase in the cost of the food products we supply to charitable organizations and will also result in a shortage of food products that we can supply," he wrote.

Opponents of biotech crops, on the other hand, said that Roundup Ready sugar beets pose a hazard to the environment and human health and should not be allowed.

"It is my understanding that the Food and Drug Administration has taken a risky stance by allowing GMOs to be widely distributed in the food source without providing that they are safe. Instead, they are monitoring for ill effects after introduction, which puts our citizens and environment at risk," wrote Elissa Mendenhall, of Portland.

Sugar is widely distributed in the U.S. food supply and contributes to the nation's "sky-high" rate of diabetes, Mendenhall said. "Adding a modified organism resembling sugar could make this situation ten times worse," she wrote.

U.S. farmers have been growing Roundup Ready beets commercially since 2006, but a federal court ruling in August returned the crop to regulated status.

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service released a plan earlier this month to allow farmers to plant the genetically modified crop again in 2011 under a closely monitored program.

Critics of the plan said plantings of Roundup Ready sugar beets should not be allowed until USDA completes a full environmental impact statement as ordered by the court. The full statement won't be ready until May 2012, the USDA has said.

To comment

Comments on the draft document may be mailed to Docket No. APHIS-2010-0047, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. To comment online, go to www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocketDetail&d=APHIS-2010-0047



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   NCGA URGES CONSUMERS TO SAY ?NO, THANKS? TO GE BEETS

SOURCE:  National Cooperative Grocers Association, USA (NCGA)

AUTHOR:  Press Release

URL:     http://www.ncga.coop/node/4521

DATE:    22.11.2010

SUMMARY: "It may be our last chance to say ?beet it? to genetically engineered sugar beets. The National Cooperative Grocers Association encourages consumers to voice their opinion on GE sugar beets to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by Dec. 6 though the USDA?s public commenting period on the issue."

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NCGA URGES CONSUMERS TO SAY ?NO, THANKS? TO GE BEETS

Iowa City, Iowa (Nov. 22, 2010) ? It may be our last chance to say ?beet it? to genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets. The National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) encourages consumers to voice their opinion on GE sugar beets to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by Dec. 6 though the USDA?s public commenting period on the issue.

NCGA is a business services cooperative representing 114 natural food co-ops nationwide.

In August 2010, the U.S. District Court officially ?vacated? USDA?s ?deregulation? of GE Beets, making any future planting and sale unlawful until USDA complies with federal law and completes an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An earlier USDA ruling violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by approving the Monsanto-engineered biotech crop without first preparing an EIS. Recently, however, USDA released a plan suggesting farmers be allowed to plant GE sugar beets in 2011, before the EIS is completed.

USDA is offering a period of public comment on its proposal through Dec. 6. Comments can be submitted directly to USDA or through the Center for Food Safety?s website.

GE Sugar Beet Concerns

Sugar beets are genetically engineered to withstand large amounts of the herbicide glyphosate. Concerns with GE sugar beets include potential negative health effects on consumers and the environment, as well as contamination of the nation?s non-GE sugar beets (which could threaten the livelihood of organic farmers and undermine the integrity of the USDA organic label).

The U.S. is one of the world?s largest sugar producers and sugar beets grown in the U.S. account for about 55 percent of our sugar production. As a result of USDA?s prior unlawful approval of GE sugar beets, 95 percent of all sugar beets planted in the U.S. last year were genetically engineered. This means the majority of sweeteners in the United States are GE products. (High-fructose corn syrup, made primarily from GE corn, is the leading sweetener with sugar a not-too-distant second.)

?Consumers deserve the right to choose what they eat and that includes the right to eat non-genetically engineered food,? states Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer for NCGA. ?Since the USDA does not require manufacturers to label their foods as containing GE ingredients, keeping GE foods from further penetrating our food supply becomes even more critical. Consumers have the opportunity to tell USDA that they want to take GE beets out of our food supply.?

NCGA along with consumer and environmental groups continues to advocate for preventing deregulation of GE beets and for labeling of any GE products. Consumers can submit comments to the USDA through the regulations.gov website or through the Center for Food Safety?s website.

About National Cooperative Grocers Association

National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), founded in 1999, is a business services cooperative for consumer-owned food co-ops located throughout the United States. NCGA is owned by 114 food co-ops operating nearly 150 stores in 32 states with combined annual sales of over $1.2 billion. NCGA helps unify natural food co-ops in order to optimize operational and marketing resources, strengthen purchasing power, and ultimately offer more value to natural food co-op shoppers everywhere. Additionally, NCGA is a winner of the dotCoop Global Awards for Cooperative Excellence in recognition of the application of cooperative values and principles to drive cooperative and business success. For a map of co-op member locations, visit www.ncga.coop.(new window To learn more about co-ops, visit www.strongertogether.coop or www.go.coop. 



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:   JUDGE'S ORDER ON GMO SUGAR BEETS COMPLICATES GROWERS' PLANS

SOURCE:  AgriNews, USA

AUTHOR:  Carol Stender

URL:     http://www.agrinews.com/judges/order/on/gmo/sugar/beets/complicates/growers/plans/story-3078.html

DATE:    18.11.2010

SUMMARY: "Sugar beet cooperatives are already rounding up conventional seed for spring planting. Growers planted GMO sugar beet seeds for this year's crop, but Judge Jeffrey White threw out the U.S. Department of Agriculture's initial approval for GMO sugar beet seed in August. The judge said there wasn't enough research into the GMO seed's environmental impact. The USDA says the environmental studies could take about two years to complete."

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JUDGE'S ORDER ON GMO SUGAR BEETS COMPLICATES GROWERS' PLANS

Genetically modified sugar beets are harvested earlier this year south of Grand Forks, Minn. Nearly all sugar beet producers have converted to Roundup Ready beets, but a judge's decision to require an environmental impact statement has thrown a monkey wrench in beet growers' operations.

WAHPETON, N.D. ? Sugar beet cooperatives are already rounding up conventional seed for spring planting.

Growers planted GMO sugar beet seeds for this year's crop, but Judge Jeffrey White threw out the U.S. Department of Agriculture's initial approval for GMO sugar beet seed in August. The judge said there wasn't enough research into the GMO seed's environmental impact.

The USDA says the environmental studies could take about two years to complete.

Besides finding the seed, cooperatives like Wahpeton, N.D.-based Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative are making contingency plans if the court upholds the judge's decision.

The judge recently heard arguments from environmentalists and sugar beet industry growers and administration on the issue.

It's not just the seed the companies are seeking, said Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative communications specialist Chris DeVries. The companies must also find the herbicides farmers will need to fight weeds.

Almost all sugar beet producers in the Red River Valley used Roundup Ready sugar beet seed this year, he said. The seed was popular with growers and quality and sugar content were good, DeVries said.

The Wahpeton-based cooperative's shareholders, growers and management are frustrated by the decision.

"It's been frustrating especially to wait for a final decision and now we are waiting again for a permit to plant Roundup Ready," DeVries said. "Because of how nicely the growing season was for sugar beets, farmers would like to get it again. Hopefully, the decision will be made and farmers can plant Roundup Ready in the spring."

U.S. sugar production will be cut about 20 percent if farmers can't use genetically modified sugar beets, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in its court statements. GMO beets have accounted for about 95 percent of the U.S. sugar beet crop in the five years since the USDA approved it.

The USDA estimates a shortage of traditional seed could cut 1.6 million tons from next year's sugar beet crop. Strong tariffs by the U.S. on sugar imports could make it difficult to make up the shortfall with sugar from other countries.

Tight supplies worldwide are driving up sugar prices which have almost doubled since May.

The cooperative should have enough conventional seed for the next planting season, DeVries said.