APHIS hears comments on GM sugarbeet controversy

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service came to Corvallis, Ore., last week to hear how people felt about the possibility of deregulating Roundup Ready sugarbeets.

APHIS originally deregulated the genetically engineered sugarbeets in 2005, but the Center for Food Safety and other GM opponents challenged the decision on court. A judge has ordered APHIS to revisit the issue and to prepare an environmental impact statement. Last week's meeting was an effort by APHIS to gain a greater perspective of the issue.

Both conventional and organic growers showed up the meeting and shared their opposing views with APHIS representatives. Conventional growers say they've already experienced multiple benefits from planting the GM sugarbeet, including higher yields, fewer weed problems and reduced chemical applications.

"If we were to lose this technology, it would increase our operating costs and make us less competitive in a global market where many countries are heavily subsidized, Paul Stiever, a third-generation Montana farmer, said at the meeting, as reported by the Gazette Times.

Pro-organic growers stated they were concerned about the threat of gene drift and the possibility of more GM crops being grown in the area, which further increases the risk of contamination of organic crops.

The Gazette Times reported, "several growers testified they have already found Roundup Ready beets growing in fields that were supposed to have been cleared of all volunteers, and one brought in a sample and waved it around for all to see.

APHIS is still taking comments on the draft environmental impact statement online through Dec. 13. To make a comment, go to http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/sugarbeet.shtml.