Frankenfoods: GMO Sugar Beets Get the Green Light_Featured_, GMOs Thursday, July 26th, 2012
By Tom Laskawy
July 24, 2012
(Grist.org) We covered the GMO sugar fracas extensively last month, but here’s a quickie review: The USDA was forced to perform a court-ordered environmental review of the GMO sugar beet seed and to restrict planting by farmers until the review was finished. As it happens, this was a review that the USDA had failed to complete back in 2008 when it had allowed farmers to begin using the seed. This failure was in violation of law and was the grounds for the court’s intervention after several consumer groups filed suit. And though the agency flouted a court-ordered halt to planting out of concern about a sugar shortage, they did ultimately comply with the judge’s order to finish a full review.
The ruling came out of the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the division in charge of regulating genetically modified food. And, as if to stress the fact that the process is complete and GMO sugar beets are totally in the clear, the USDA declared in the announcement that “this is APHIS’ final regulatory determination in this matter.” So back off, people!
The review was released last month so there was little that was surprising in the final announcement. But the language that APHIS used this week explains a lot about federal policy on GMOs. As the agency put it:
After completing both a thorough environmental impact statement (EIS) and plant pest risk assessment (PPRA) … APHIS has determined that, from the standpoint of plant pest risk, RR sugar beets are as safe as traditionally bred sugar beets.
In other words, the only grounds on which the USDA judges risks with GMOs are their threat to turn into a “pest plant,” i.e. a plant that could cause trouble for other crops. What about all the other potential risks GMOs represent — health, ecological, economic, etc.? Well, the fact is that Congress has never written a law designed to regulate genetically modified food; GMO regulation has been shoehorned into existing law (by then-Vice President Dan Quayle, no less). And the controlling regulations for GMOs are the USDA’s “plant pest” rules.
This fact allows the USDA to keep the bar for approval very low — and it’s a bar that every GMO seed ever submitted for approval has managed to clear.