APHIS announces final EIS for GE sugar beets
The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), published two assessments prepared in response to a petition for nonregulated status submitted to the agency by developers of a variety of sugar beet genetically engineered (GE) to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. This variety is commonly referred to as Roundup Ready (RR) sugar beets. In considering the request, and in accordance with a U.S. District Court decision in 2009, APHIS has prepared two analyses, one under the Plant Protection Act and another under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). These two analyses will be available for public review for at least 30 days before APHIS makes its final regulatory determination.
Under the Plant Protection Act and APHIS’ regulations, the Agency is specifically required to evaluate if the RR sugar beet variety is a plant pest to agricultural crops or other plants or plant products. The Act defines a plant pest as organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, or insects that can cause harm to agricultural crops or other plants or plant products. APHIS’ final plant pest risk assessment, available HERE, finds RR sugar beets are not likely to pose a plant pest risk.
While APHIS’ PPRA is focused on the plant pest risk associated with RR sugar beets, the Agency’s final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), available here, comprehensively evaluates the potential environmental impacts of the three alternatives before the Agency. While helpful in informing the Agency regarding any potential environmental impacts before making its final regulatory determination under the Plant Protection Act, NEPA does not provide APHIS any authority to address such environmental impacts.
The final PPRA and EIS are not APHIS’ final regulatory determination on the petition for the nonregulated status of RR sugar beets. These two documents will be available for public review for at least 30 days before APHIS makes its final regulatory determination on the petition for nonregulated status. APHIS will publish in the Federal Register its record of decision for the FEIS and its final regulatory determination after that 30 day period has concluded.
In examining these alternatives – to maintain the regulated status of RR sugar beets; to determine that nonregulated status was appropriate for RR sugar beets; or to continue regulation of RR sugar beets with regulatory conditions in place – APHIS has evaluated a host of concerns and issues that have been raised regarding RR sugar beets. These include gene flow between RR sugar beets and non-GE sugar beet, table beet, Swiss chard, and wild beet varieties. APHIS also analyzed the implications for herbicide use and tillage, and impacts on weed development and on non-target organisms, such as amphibians. The Agency also studied impacts of its decision on public health and worker safety.