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Published online: Dec 07, 2010 ASGA
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By Luther Markwart On December 6, 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay of Judge Jeffrey White's November 30, 2010, ruling requiring destruction of sugarbeet stecklings (seedlings) currently being grown under permits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The stecklings are intended for research and breeding purposes, as well as basic seed and hybrid seed production for 2012 and future years. The Appeals Court granted the stay of the district court's order until December 23, 2010, and, in the interim, the Court will determine the next steps in the proceedings. The beetsugar industry's growers, processors, technology providers and seed producers are pleased that the Court of Appeals will now have a meaningful opportunity to consider relevant legal precedents and unrebutted evidence that the planting of these permitted steckling fields is authorized by law and would cause no harm. Views Voiced Also on December 6, the public commenting period ended for anyone wishing to voice their views on the proposed alternatives presented by APHIS to allow Roundup Ready sugarbeets to be grown in 2011. Many thanks go out to each and every grower who submitted comments and encouraged others to fight for the continued use of this important technology. We also give a big thanks to other national commodity groups-the National Corn Growers, National Cotton Council, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, American Farm Bureau Federation--our customers (Sweetener Users Association); university scientists; seed companies; bankers; state departments of agriculture; and yes, even organic farmers who support this technology in sugarbeets. This is truly a prime example of American agriculture standing up for biotechnology. ASGA RECOMMENDATIONS In its final draft of the Environmental Assessment (EA), APHIS should clarify that the naturally-occurring sugar (sucrose) derived from a GE sugarbeet is not GE. Any attempt to differentiate sucrose on this basis is erroneous and misleading to consumers. In the case of sugar (sucrose), differentiation is a marketing gimmick used to imply differences where none exist. While sucrose may take on many distinctive forms in the marketplace (granular, powdered, flavored, etc.), its source - whether from beet or cane, and whether from conventional or biotech seed - is fundamentally irrelevant. In our ASGA statement we outlined a few recommendations that are important to our growers: Bolter Identification, Removal, Inspection and Reporting Farmers should not be required to begin surveying for bolters on April 1. Most farmers will not have even planted sugarbeets by that date. Moreover, on those occasions where bolters appear, it is generally later in the growing season. We propose that surveying begin on June 1 or 60 days after planting, whichever is later. Truck Loading Our growers believe that APHIS should not place additional conditions on truck loading beyond existing state and federal requirements. Additional requirements could create confusion and a risk of inconsistent interpretations of APHIS loading restrictions and existing law. Given that a sugarbeet is a large root typically weighing at least five pounds, growers already take precautions to avoid any loss on roads to avoid damage to vehicles on the highway. Moreover, sugarbeets are valuable and our members already have a financial incentive to minimize the loss of beets during loading and transport. And even if there were occasional lost beets, they would not remain viable over the winter and do not pose any plant pest risk. Field Monitoring APHIS has proposed that root crop fields be monitored for three years following harvest and volunteer plants destroyed. ASGA opposes this requirement for commercial root crops. First, as set forth above, the risk from bolters in commercial production is extremely low to begin with leaving virtually no viable seed behind. Second, given their water content, any beet that escaped harvest would likely freeze over winter and deteriorate rapidly. That risk would be even lower in subsequent years for fields that have been harvested and either left fallow or prepared for other crops. Rotated crops would typically use other herbicides that would destroy a rare volunteer. In addition, this three-year field monitoring requirement is unnecessarily burdensome and impractical. Many growers lease land and may not have the right of access to or control of a field in subsequent years. Moreover, it may be difficult for growers to renegotiate the terms of existing multi-year leases to allow a right of entry. Rotation APHIS has also proposed a four-year rotation for glyphosate-tolerant sugarbeets, stating, "If the same land is used for crop cultivation during the volunteer monitoring period, that crop shall be visually distinct from sugarbeets or the fields left fallow." ASGA opposes this condition as unnecessary and unworkable. Now we must wait on APHIS to review all of the comments and make a determination as to how to proceed. They clearly understand the urgency for decision making in our industry. To view the entire eight-page submission, visit our website at www.americansugarbeet.org.