A little while ago, the USDA came to town to hear public comments on their draft
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of Roundup Ready Sugar Beets. It was a full auditorium on the Oregon State University campus, with attendees ranging from Roundup Ready Sugar Beet growers from the Midwest to local organic farmers and concerned citizens. If somehow you missed one of the three nationwide public comment sessions, you still have your chance to speak out online, by visiting the USDA- APHIS website, where you will also find the EIS itself.
For some pointers, here is a summary of what I said at the public hearing:
I hardly know where to start with this draft EIS, I found so many points of contention. However, I would like to focus on three main aspects.
First, I would like to address the negative socioeconomic impact on Roundup Ready Sugar Beet (RRSB) growers, who would lose money if the crop is regulated. These impacts are caused in large part by the limited availability of conventional sugar beet seed and corresponding herbicides due to the widespread adoption of a crop that should not have been approved for use before an EIS was completed. The USDA allowed this shift to RRSB, and had the EIS been done when it was supposed to be, economic impacts due to short supply of conventional seed could not have been used as a reason to deregulate. It is unfair to include this issue as a defense for RRSB now.
Secondly, the EIS states that “Total pounds of herbicide applied per acre is expected to be greater under alternatives 2 and 3″, although the number of different herbicides is dropped. I have to disagree with the notion that using glyphosate is an acceptable safe alternative to other herbicides. Consider the European Journal of Agronomy, Volume 31 Issue 3, which deals with issues of “Glyphosate Interactions with physiology, nutrition, and diseases of plants”. In an article entitled Glyphosate and Resistant Crop Interactions with Rhizosphere Microorganisms, the authors document a rise in fusarium and antagonistic bacteria following glyphosate applications, while other articles in the journal document weed population shifts, and negative effects to plant health due to glyphosate’s fundamental restructuring of soil communities. The EIS specifically states that the use of Roundup in the production of sugar beets will have no negative impact on humans, other mammals, and microorganisms, however, I have just referred to several papers that demonstrate this is untrue. More research needs to be done, and all the current research must be taken into account here.
Lastly, there is a recurring claim that genetic contamination is very unlikely when isolation distances are set, the pinning map is adhered to, and all sorts of precautions are taken to keep the RRSB from getting into organic and conventional fields. However, it has been shown over and over that GM traits will get out of even tightly restricted areas. In the sugar beet court case, there is a redacted document listing multiple instances of contamination of sugar beet fields, although the names and information are withheld so that the farmers do not lose business when their customers drop contracts. In the public hearing in Corvallis, Ted Hake of Universal Seed revealed that their company has recorded contamination levels of 20% in last season’s crop. 20% contamination for Universal Seed is no small matter, and is definitely higher than the 0% contamination which the EIS advertises. The point is that this contamination does happen; it has happened under partial deregulation and will happen more if fully deregulated.
Please reconsider the option supported by this EIS, and please look further into scientific research on all aspects of this crop before a regulatory decision is made.