Find out about the genetically-modified (GMO) battle over sugar beets in the United States, how it compares to GMO struggles in Australia, who's running the show and how it's being run.

It seems the controversy surrounding Genetically-Modified (GMO) crops is spreading around the globe – literally.

 I was really interested to attend the Western Australia local meeting a couple months ago to discuss GMO issues.  There is an organic farmer there (Steve Marsh) who had his crops contaminated by his neighbor’s GMO crops, lost his organic certification, and is going after Monsanto for damages.  We loved attending the meeting because we wanted to understand how another country has been impacted by and views GMO crops.  I was especially interested in learning more about the Australian GMO battle because I had been recently reading about a GMO battle taking place in the United States.  

 The battle in the U.S. is over GMO sugar beets, grown to make sugar (the processed white kind we’re most familiar with for table sugar and baking).  The basic story is this: the USDA is required to conduct research and prepare an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) before allowing GMO plants to be approved for planting.  This has never been done for GMO sugar beets.  So, after four years of GMO sugar beets being planted in the U.S. and the USDA’s decision to deregulate the GMO sugar beet crop, several organizations with concerns over contamination of non-GMO crops sued to enforce the law requiring the EIS.  The result of that case is that last August (2010) a District Judge in California (Judge Jeffrey White) put a hold on the planting of future GMO sugar beet seeds until the USDA could provide the EIS.  The USDA’s response is that the following month (September 2010) they issued permits to allow the planting of GMO sugar beet seeds.  Since this was in violation of Judge White’s orders, another lawsuit was brought and in December 2010 Judge White ordered the removal from the ground of the seeds that had been planted.  The response from the USDA?  One month later it issued a decision to allow the continued planting of the GMO sugar beets (completely ignoring both of Judge Whites’s decisions).  Interestingly, that same week the USDA deregulated GMO alfalfa, allowing the planting and growing of it without any labeling or restrictions, and again in violation of the law requiring and EIS for GMO crops.  Alfalfa is the nation’s fourth largest crop and is very adept at pollinating, so the probability for contamination of non-GMO crops is almost guaranteed.  The decision by the USDA to allow the sugar beet planting and harvesting is currently being challenged through the legal system.

 One of the similarities between this case and the one in Australia is that the governments in both countries specifically allowed the planting of GMO crops that were not legal to be planted in that country.  One of the big differences between what is happening in Australia and what has happened in the U.S. is that in Australia a farmer is suing Monsanto over contamination of his non-GMO crops by a neighboring Monsanto farmer; so far in the U.S. when a non-GMO farmer has her crops contaminated by a Monsanto GMO crop-growing neighbor, the non-GMO farmer gets sued by Monsanto.

 There are many things I find disturbing about these stories, and many of them have nothing to do with whether GMO is safe or healthy (due to the genetic modification itself).  One is I’m disturbed by how much power Monsanto seems to have if it can get governments to break their own country’s laws for Monsanto’s benefit.  Isn’t the law is the law, and shouldn’t it apply to everyone equally?  And speaking of that, I’m so incredibly disturbed that in the U.S. the justice system is apparently completely irrelevant in this sugar beet case.  I find it very scary that the judicial system arrives at a decision that is ignored by the executive branch of our government, regardless of the topic.  What happened to the checks and balances our country was founded on? 

 Another thing I find alarming is that, with the way crops spread and pollinate, it seems clear that GMO crops can’t be contained and guaranteed not to contaminate non-GMO crops.  This eliminates choice for people who want to grow and eat non-GMO food.  That’s not cool.  Lastly, I personally find the thought of consuming a GMO crop very disturbing: that food has been genetically modified to withstand large and repeated amounts of chemicals that will KILL ANY OTHER PLANTS almost instantly.  Awesome, I have an apple to eat because it can’t be killed by Agent Orange.  😉

 I’m amused by a concern in the sugar beet case that not planting the GMO crops would lead to a significant shortage of sugar in U.S. and that prices would rise – oh, would less and more expensive sugar in the U.S. be a bad thing? 😉     

 Luckily it appears that GMO hasn’t spread here to Bali much if at all.  The locals use plastic bags hung on trees or taller plants over their rice fields to scare pests away (they make noise when the wind blows), and ducks eat the pests and weeds and fertilize the fields all in one go.  In my opinion, that’s a beautiful thing.

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