Thursday, October 20, 2011

Draft EIS for beets

Draft EIS for beets released
By Cindy Snyder
AgWeekly
October 20, 2011

TWIN FALLS - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has met its first deadline on the way to issuing a final decision regarding Roundup Ready sugar beets.

The federal agency released its draft environmental impact statement on the genetically modified crop last week. The document is similar to the one prepared for Roundup Ready alfalfa before that crop was deregulated in January 2011. Like the alfalfa EIS, the beet document evaluates three alternatives in the 700-plus page document.

Option one is to not allow any planting of the genetically modified seed. Option two is to continue with the partial deregulation that the industry is operating under this year. That includes maintaining the rules, field checks and detailed record keeping. The third option is to grant non-regulated status to the crop.

Deregulation is the USDA’s preferred option. But, the agency must complete the comment period and carefully consider those comments before a final rule can be issued, said Mark Duffin, executive director of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association.

USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service deregulated Roundup Ready sugarbeets in 2005, but the action was challenged in court by organic seed producers and other environmental groups who were afraid beets being raised for seed production would cross pollinate with Swiss chard and table beet seed crops for the organic market. Critics said the agency should have completed a full EIS rather than the less comprehensive environmental assessment.

In September 2009, a federal judge agreed with the plaintiffs and banned the use of the genetically modified seed until the full EIS was completed. After the U.S.

Supreme Court ruled in June 2010 that USDA - not the courts - had the authority to oversee genetically modified crops until a final decision was announced, a partial deregulation was issued for the 2011 and 2012 growing seasons.

Growers have chafed at some of the mandatory conditions and restrictions imposed through the partial deregulation, but USDA has said compliance has been good.

Scouting fields all season for bolters - plants that are producing a seed stalk - was one requirement. Another is to not overload trucks at harvest to minimize accidental spills. Drivers following beet trucks may applaud that new rule, but the intent to prevent accidental contamination with seed crops.

Still, growers were thrilled just to have the opportunity to plant Roundup Ready beets last spring. “With the spring we had, we were very glad to have Roundup,”

Duffin said. “It is next to impossible to spray with conventional herbicides and keep ahead of the weeds when it is as wet as it was this spring.”

USDA will accept public comment on the draft EIS until December 13. Three public meetings are also scheduled to take comment on the document including November 17 in Corvallis, OR. The other meetings are scheduled for Fargo, ND, and Riverdale, MD.

The draft EIS is available on the APHIS website at www.aphis.usda.gov and the public can use a link provided on the site to make comments on the draft EIS.

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