I’ve been monitoring with interest a court case going on in the good old US of A because it could have serious implications for the food we ingest. I am not a fan of genetically-modified (GM) foods due to the unknown long-term effects of gene-mixing, possible creation of super-viruses and antibiotic resistance, potential toxins, allergens and carcinogens. Basically, introducing changes into the DNA of plants and crops and producing transgenic products is an unnatural process IMHO. GM foods (so we’re told) enhance desired traits within crops and plants, such as increased resistance to herbicides, or they offer improved nutritional content. And with an exploding world population, GM crops are designed to be pest and disease-resistant; they can tolerate cold or harsh climates and droughts. So on the surface, GM foods make sense. But scratch beneath the surface and you start to worry.
The court case I’ve had my eye is a cat-fight between Monsanto and the Center for Food Safety, the Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Sierra Club, amongst others. The coalition of plaintiffs were seeking a temporary ban on genetically-modified Roundup Ready sugar beets and sugar beet seeds developed by Monsanto. The cat-fight goes like this:
- the coalition argues that the US Department of Agriculture approved the glyphosate-resistant sugar beets (commercially known as “Roundup Ready) without properly determining socioeconomic and environmental impacts. The approval dates back to the Bush administration.
- the coalition is arguing the possibility of genetic contamination of organic and conventional crops such as Swiss chard and red table beets.
- they are asking for a temporary ban on the planting of Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds until the US federal government does an environmental and health impact study.
- and they are arguing that both farmers and consumers will be forced to grow or buy GM sugar beets because of limited choice.
So really the legal argument is that federal regulators wrongly approved the commercialization of GM sugar beets. The US Department of Agriculture deregulated genetically engineered RoundUp Ready sugar beets in 2004. And in September 2009, the federal district court for the Northern District of California ruled that the Bush administration had unlawfully approved the GM sugar beets. You can read the court order here. Naturally, Monsanto wasn’t taking this lying down and appealed.
Federal district Judge, Jeffrey White, has just denied the coalition group’s preliminary injunction but has left the door open for permanent relief when he says:
“The parties should not assume that the court’s decision to deny a preliminary injunction is indicative of its views on a permanent injunction pending the full environmental review that [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] is required to do“.
I think the denial of the injunction means that farmers can go ahead in April 2010 and plant sugar beets. The coalition group is seeking a permanent injunction and will be back in court to fight it out with Monsanto in July 2010. To gain perspective as to why this will be a huge cat fight – 1 million acres of Roundup Ready sugar beets have been planted in 10 US States and in two Canadian provinces. That’s a whole lot of sugar beets and they account for more than half of the United States’ sugar production. And of course contamination from GM sugar beet seeds would be devastating for farmers planting organic seeds, making their crops pretty much worthless.
This is an important case because Roundup Ready sugar beets are genetically-engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup glyphosate-based herbicide and this results in the creation of Roundup-resistant “super weeds”. To overcome resistance, farmers often resort to nasty, nasty herbicides like 2,4-D, the active ingredient in Agent Orange. Apart from this horror scenario, the sugar produced from Roundup Ready sugar beet crops have greatly elevated levels of the herbicide glyphosphate, which may end up in the products we consume ranging from breakfast cereals to bread.