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Biotech United States Science

Judge Rejects Approval of Engineered Sugar Beets 427

countertrolling writes "A federal judge has ruled that the government failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of genetically engineered sugar beets before approving the crop for cultivation in the United States. The decision could lead to a ban on the planting of the beets, which have been widely adopted by farmers. Beets supply about half the nation's sugar, with the rest coming from sugar cane. The Agriculture Department did conduct an environmental assessment before approving the genetically engineered beets in 2005 for widespread planting. But the department concluded there would be no significant impact, so a fuller environmental impact statement was not needed. But Judge White said that the pollen from the genetically engineered crops might spread to non-engineered beets. He said that the 'potential elimination of farmer's choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer's choice to eat non-genetically engineered food' constituted a significant effect on the environment that necessitated an environmental impact statement. There's still hope, isn't there? That we can at least get this stuff labeled properly?"
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Judge Rejects Approval of Engineered Sugar Beets

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  • by Killer Orca ( 1373645 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:18PM (#29516885)
    I believe you are confusing organic, food grown without pesticides [], with genetically un-modified foods.
  • by ( 463190 ) * on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:21PM (#29516937) Homepage

    Except that the latest crops are now patented. If someone's crops get pollinated with the patented strain, even unintentionally just by wind from a neighboring field, then he can be sued by the inventor and subjected to license fees.

  • by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:25PM (#29516979)

    Not even the summary says anything about end product safety. The concern is environmental impact, which has nothing to do with what the beets are eventually turned in to.

  • by jameskojiro ( 705701 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:26PM (#29516999) Journal

    There have been reported cases of Horizontal gene transfers caused by viruses and bacteria in Nature.

    Some genes are thought to be transferred across plant/fungi/animal boundaries by certain pathogens.

    Granted it takes a log time for such gene transfers to contribute to useful attributes for the target organism.

    But this discovery of Naturally occurring Horizontal gene transfer is causing some issues in Molecular evolutionary genetics.

  • Re:Forget the Beets! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bill, Shooter of Bul ( 629286 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:30PM (#29517065) Journal

    Well, sort of. I myself think all of the anti-GMO crap is BS fear mongering. Having said that, Monsanto is run by a bunch of assholes. They created the terminator corn, that sought to protect their " intelectuall property" by creating corn that wasn't fertile. So you couldn't grow corn, harvest it and then plant the seeds for another crop. ( Note they did remove it from the market place over widespread criticism. )

    From Monsanto's perspective, growing corn from seed that was grown from their seed is theft. You do not have the "right" to plant that. You must buy new seed from Monsanto.

  • Re:Forget the Beets! (Score:5, Informative)

    by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:34PM (#29517149)

    Actually, the main complaint against Monsanto is that they sue you if you save the seeds from your GM crops, they sue you if you operate a seed-preservation business (whether it's for GM crops or not), and they sue you if seeds from GM crops make their way into your fields, as plants often do naturally.

    In short, they're patent-wielding litigious bastards. If their position wasn't opposite that of environmentalist, Slashdot readers would be on the anti-Monsanto bandwagon like white on rice.

    Secondary complaints are that their safety and environmental impact studies are suspect. These studies are fairly important when you're performing drastic biological change in a small number of generations. (Non-GM plant engineers do the same sorts of studies, but when the term "GM" is added, suddenly it's unfair government regulation.) They're also creating a significant risk of destroying genetic diversity, made worse by the fact that they own patents controlling the genotypes that are hedging out the others. Crop genetic diversity isn't just important in some hippie "plant multiculturalism" sense -- it's important if you plan on your children being able to eat in the future.

  • by plover ( 150551 ) * on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:35PM (#29517169) Homepage Journal

    Do we really have the confidence in our understanding of genetic mechanisms to rule out harmful side-effects?

    Turn that question around: What are the side effects of non-GMO crops? How do you know that this mushroom is safe to eat, and not that one? It's very simple: people tried them, and they discovered that this particular type made them sick and die. At least GMOs get tested for this in a lab before they're released into the environment.

    Keep in mind that with GMO crops you're taking two things: corn and chrysanthemum, for example, and pasting them together to create corn with a borer-resistant root. It's not like that mix is going to result in corn that grows gills and glows in the dark. So you test the corn that comes out, and if there's no permethrin in the kernels, what difference does it make to you in the food chain? None.

    The radical greens who try to scare people about GMOs play upon people's gullibility. They want us to not understand that we animals don't merge with the DNA of the foods we eat. Our stomach acids break the cells down, and our bodies collect and use only the raw nutrition components. If it didn't work this way, eating a cow could give you hooves, or eating corn might make a tassel grow out of your head. For those bits of food where the digestion process opens the cell walls, the same digestion process breaks up the DNA into amino acids. The undigestible bits come out the other end.

    I do agree that the Terminator gene is as evil as DRM, but from a humanity/political point of view, not from a scientific view.

  • Re:Why do you care? (Score:4, Informative)

    by plastick ( 1607981 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:42PM (#29517287)
    Call me a "green" if you wish but lab results on some of the genetically modified food have shown stomach cancer in lab rats. You think this federal judge ruled against the crop without any reason at all?

    If you want a ton of specifics (just too many to list here) about GM food and it's health effects, there's a good documentary (which also covers how farmers get screwed) call "The Future of Food" located at
  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:47PM (#29517385)

    I believe you are confusing organic, food grown without pesticides [], with genetically un-modified foods.

    I suggest you read your own link. "Organic" labelling does not just mean "without pesticides", it also usually includes "not genetically modified".

  • by MaizeMan ( 1076255 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:48PM (#29517401) Homepage
    Unless you happened to live in California for a few years in the 1990s you've never tasted a genetically modified tomato (and I understood they sold quite well during that time).

    Unless you were at one point a grad student who engineered them yourself (or worked in a lab with someone who did) you've never tasted a GM strawberry.

    If I'm wrong please point me toward where I can buy the GM seed for either of those.

    For the record the only GM fruit or vegetable anyone will probably encounter right now would be a papaya from Hawaii engineered to resist papaya ring spot virus, as GM papayas were introduced after ring spot virus decimated the conventional papayas.
  • They can't (Score:4, Informative)

    by Rix ( 54095 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:53PM (#29517509)

    The case you're thinking of involved a farmer who specifically gathered cross pollinated rapeseed and selectively bred them for the Monsanto gene. He wasn't sued for genetic drift.

    Oh, and linking to hulu is a real jerk move. They block non-Americans.

  • I can back this up (Score:3, Informative)

    by MaizeMan ( 1076255 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:56PM (#29517579) Homepage
    Agreed. Looking at the genome of say, rice, you can easily pick out some genes that are most closely related to genes in fungus than in other plants, and presumably arrived via horizontal gene transfer. Not a lot, but that's because most horizontally transfered genes serve no purpose out of context in such a different form of like and would be preserved or spread through the gene pool.
  • by david.given ( 6740 ) <dg.cowlark@com> on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:04PM (#29517701) Homepage Journal

    Direct insertion of DNA sequences from other species is different to breeding and selection.

    End of story.

    Beginning of story, actually.

    Viruses are not precisely reliable. They'll frequently inject genetic material into a cell but then the reproductive phase will fail. This can cause cancer, various metabolic faults in the cell including immediate cell death, or frequently nothing at all because the genetic material will usually remain inert. Usually it's nothing to worry about because it's just one cell.

    But what if the cell is a reproductive cell that turns into a zygote, forming an embryo? What'll happen is that the viral DNA will get replicated into every cell in the embryo --- including the embryo's own germ cells. This means the change will breed true. Viral DNA has now part of the animal's bloodline. It's rare, but it happens --- and the viral genetic material may not stay inert; it's frequently coopted and used. Apparently it's fairly well proven that the genetic sequence that protects babies from the immune systems of their mothers was stolen in this way from a retrovirus like HIV.

    But this also works in reverse. A virus can attack a cell, reproduce, and accidentally scoop up host DNA. Now the animal's genetic material has entered the viral bloodline (as it were).

    Add the two together, and what do you get? A mechanism for directly inserting DNA sequences from one species to a totally unrelated species. And it's all completely natural.

    It's called horizontal gene transfer [].

    That's just animals. Plants are even worse --- they're extremely lax about cellular security, and will happily swap genetic material with organisms nearby. If you look on the verges of fields planted with a pesticide-resistant crop, you can frequently find unrelated weeds that have become pesticide resistant themselves; they've snapped up the useful genetic sequences from the crops nearby. I don't know if they've found the mechanism for this yet --- anyone know?

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:04PM (#29517709)


  • Re:Release the bats! (Score:3, Informative)

    by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:22PM (#29518043) Journal

    Actually, yes. They are referring to granulated "table" sugar (aka sucrose) when they use the word "sugar". It is a case of colloquial vs scientific speech and definitions.

  • Re:Why do you care? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jewfro_Macabbi ( 1000217 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:26PM (#29518109)
    That's right, ooh scary - GMO's are a bit scary. No human safety tests were done - ever. Were all just supposed to trust the warm an fuzzy Monsanto would never sell us anything bad. It's just the company who made agent orange.

    Now that studies are being done, GMO's are shown to cause increased allergenicity, as well as other problems:

    "Animal studies consistently indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, including infertility, immune system dysfunction, organ damage, and increased mortality. Smith warns, "The only published human GMO feeding study confirmed that genes from the genetically engineered foods transfer into intestinal bacteria of humans and that these genes continue to function."
  • Re:That's absurd (Score:3, Informative)

    by Draek ( 916851 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:29PM (#29518173)

    *All* crops cross pollinate. Why should GM growers be held to a higher standard?

    Because they're covered by patents.

    If you really want crops without any cross contamination, you can grow them in a sealed hydroponic facility.

    Exactly. Which is what Monsanto should be requiring of their customers, instead of waiting until cross-pollination occurs then suing for patent infringement.

  • Re:Almost (Score:2, Informative)

    by oatworm ( 969674 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:41PM (#29518381) Homepage
    The entire point of Roundup-ready crops is that it takes less Roundup to kill pests than natural alternatives. So, food grown from Roundup-ready crops would actually have less pesticides on them than non-GM non-organic food. I can't argue with you about Monsato's business policies, though - not a big fan of them.
  • Re:They can't (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:42PM (#29518417)

    His own plants were accidentally cross pollinated with Monsanto Roundup Ready seed and then he saved that seed for future generations. He never used Roundup on his plants and thus never had the benefits of it. Nice troll!

    Oh and it was clearly a Hulu link (he didn't put it in tags) so stop your whining.

  • by wastedlife ( 1319259 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:50PM (#29518561) Homepage Journal

    Sounds like you are talking about hothouse vegetables and fruits grown out of season or ones from another region that are picked well before ripening to increase shelf life. As stated in another reply these are not GM crops.

  • Re:Forget the Beets! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:56PM (#29518665)
    King Corn
    Food Inc.
    The Omnivore's Dilemma []
  • Re:Almost (Score:3, Informative)

    by Swanktastic ( 109747 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @02:01PM (#29518751)

    Roundup is a non-selective herbicide, not a pesticide. Planting "Roundup Ready" crops means I can spray my entire field with a 60-70 foot boom sprayer and not care when it gets all over the post-emergent crop plants. The crop will be immune to the Roundup (glycophospate), and the weeds will die. In the olden days, you had to cultivate between rows to tear up the weeds, and it was pretty much impossible to get at the weeds that were inline with the crop (from a tractor at least).


  • Re:Forget the Beets! (Score:3, Informative)

    by someone1234 ( 830754 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @02:02PM (#29518777)

    Not just that, but if your field is 'infected' by their gene, it is you who must destroy your whole crop, and they are not paying any penalty for ruining your income.

  • by plumbparallel ( 1307377 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @02:05PM (#29518819)

    The Biotechnology Industry Organization maintains a list of GM seed on the market here: []

    Strawberries and tomatoes are indeed present.

  • Re:Release the bats! (Score:5, Informative)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @02:14PM (#29518963) Journal

    Fructose is a monosaccharide and is extracted primarily form corn

    Fructose is a monosaccharide and is derived primarily from glucose extracted from corn. While there are natural sources of fructose, corn isn't one of them.

  • by MaizeMan ( 1076255 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @02:17PM (#29519025) Homepage
    Strawberries and Tomatoes are both listed under "In development."

    Just to be clear I'm not saying there will never be GM tomatoes or strawberries, just that you can't eat them today. So while you or others may feel tomatoes today are less tasty than they used to be, the fault doesn't lie with genetic engineering since the ones everyone is eating haven't been touched by the technology.

    Thanks for the link though. It's a great resource.
  • by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @02:29PM (#29519207)

    The concern here isn't over contamination of the end product, but the environmental impact of growing the crop.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @02:35PM (#29519295)

    b) it occurred over multiple seasons, which negated his claim that he didn't know.

    Just a random thought, but since the farmer is, well, a farmer and not a plant geneticist I'm not sure how he could be certain his crops were contaminated.

    My understanding was that the most significant feature of the GM plants was their resistance to Roundup pesticide. Is he responsible every year for proving his crops are not contaminated?

    And my understanding is that the only way to test for that is to try and kill the plants with an overdose of pesticide. So he has to prove his crops are uncontaminated by trying to kill them with pesticide?

    Anyway, water under the bridge.

  • Re:Forget the Beets! (Score:3, Informative)

    by angrytuna ( 599871 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @03:08PM (#29519723)
    This serves as well, I believe:
    Monsanto v Schmeiser []
  • Re:Forget the Beets! (Score:3, Informative)

    by gunnk ( 463227 ) <<gunnk> <at> <>> on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @03:18PM (#29519893) Homepage
    It's all GM...

    For decades companies would use radiation to induce random mutation, then search for offspring that had desirable properties. That's not labeled GM, but it IS "genetically modified".

    Is having plants full of random mutations of unknown sort really better than plants with carefully controlled modifications? Your already getting the former at every meal.
  • Re:Forget the Beets! (Score:4, Informative)

    by jayme0227 ( 1558821 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @03:20PM (#29519937) Journal

    To a certain point, this is feasible, but generally manufacturers don't just stick to one single strain GM crop. In one of my classes back in college we discussed Monsanto and some other GMO manufacturers in the US. While they did develop strains that were more prominent than others, theywere continually working to create new strains so that this precise scenario would NOT occur. If I were a farmer, though, I would ensure that I was not using the same GM corn that all of my neighbors were, just to make sure that this didn't happen to me.

  • Yes, and no (Score:2, Informative)

    by Mathinker ( 909784 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @03:21PM (#29519963) Journal

    > Eventually Mostanto could create a roundup-ready corn using artificial selection, the same way
    > we've been doing it since we dug furrows in Mesopotamia.

    OK, now explain how Monsanto could develop GURT [] by using selection. That would be kind of hard, considering that the trait they want to enhance is sterility? So, yes, all our food is genetically modified, and no, direct genetic engineering isn't just a stronger form of cross-breeding and selection.

    > Would that be fine? Is it just the tool that's the problem or is it hysteria at anything that's
    > genetically modified and labelled as a Frankenfood by enivronmentalists?

    I agree that the unwashed masses are hysterical, but my feeling is that the judge is right. Monsanto have already sued their victim(s) (and won!) in the past when their unwanted technology was passed to neighboring farms via pollen, through no fault of the neighboring farmer. That, at least, has to stop. It's similar to having RIAA sue you for downloading music which a computer worm transferred to your computer.

  • by SEE ( 7681 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @04:15PM (#29520997) Homepage

    Look, he wasn't caught because Monsanto was rooting around testing people's crops. He was caught because Monsanto noticed he was buying vast quantities of Roundup, which was weird. Further investigation revealed the farmer was spraying Roundup indiscriminately over his crop.

    Now, if your crop doesn't have the Roundup Ready gene, spraying it with Roundup kills it. So this farmer knew that the crop he was planting was all Roundup Ready. Then when he was caught, he then made up a cock-and-bull story about inadvertent contamination in hopes that he could avoid the legal consequences of deliberately, intentionally, and systematically violating Monsanto's patent.

  • Re:Forget the Beets! (Score:3, Informative)

    by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @04:18PM (#29521047)
    Babies that are given infant formula (one of the most complex and ever changing food products that exists) still don't thrive as well as babies that are breast-fed.

    There has been a resurgence of breast-feeding for quite some time. But not every baby can be breast fed. Not all mothers can breast-feed their children even if they wanted to.

    one of the way shelf life is improved is because the little creatures that feed off if it fail to thrive because the nutrients are just not there. If fungal spores refuse to consume it then what the fuck are we doing choosing it as our preferred type of bread? Shouldn't this be a hint?

    I guess you never let a piece of white bread around long enough for it to get moldy. Try taking it out of the plastic bag and putting it in a dark place... Fungus eat basically anything with carbohydrates. There are some nutritionists who think whole grain wheat is bad for you and that it induces rickets in growing children by neutralizing necessary nutrients. Leavened bread also is usually enriched with folic acid while whole grain bread is not. I personally think whole grain bread tastes terrible, gives me stomachache, and do not care a damn about whole grains. Wheat has been genetically selected by mankind since the dawn of agriculture. It is hardly "natural". It is better to eat it than to starve though.

    Margarine replaced butter during WWI because of wartime production restrictions. Hardly because it was considered healthier. It was readily available and cheaper than butter. I remember the relatively recent fad of it being so-called healthier when I was a kid. The small group of people who claimed it was healthier were usually the same shitheads who preferred whole grains, soya (blech) and macrobiotics in general. Now the talk is about "organics" and how it is better to use dung to fertilize fields, when dung has a high probability of propagating parasites across the food chain and causes acid rain. There is nothing wrong with using nitrogen fertilizer.

    GMO is nothing but an extension of existing selective breeding practices done at least since the dawn of agriculture.

    I am not in favor of cloning to be used in general in agriculture however. We have had enough issues with keeping bananas pest free. Banana trees are clones and it has nothing to do with GMO...

  • Re:Forget the Beets! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Misch ( 158807 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @04:57PM (#29521773) Homepage

    Take a listen to This American Life []'s podcast this week (Show #168) titled "The Fix Is In". Most of the episode is about Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), and a single instance of price fixing and collusion for a single farm product/food additive. I wouldn't call it "one" company controlling everything, but there is a definite oligarchy.

  • Re:Forget the Beets! (Score:3, Informative)

    by weiserfireman ( 917228 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @06:03PM (#29522799) Homepage
    But in this case, we are talking about the production of SUGAR

    At the end of the day, when the beets are processed and the sugar is produced into nice little bags for you to buy in the grocery store, no genetic material is left in the sugar.

    A good chemistry lab should be able to easily prove that there is no chemical difference between sugar produced from GM beets and non-GM beets. Anti-GM fear mongering over sugar is not science based.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @09:23PM (#29524397)

    That is the problem with geneticly modifying plants -- they are very promiscuous. WHat the poster failed to mention is that the farmer in question had developed his own seeds and had been saving them for many years. The presence of the Monsanto crop upwind meant that he was being repeatedly contaminated. But he persisted in running his farm as always rather than just burn his fields when they got contaminated. I believe it was rape seed or canola, not corn, by the way.

    So if a GM crop distributes its genes via the wind and contaminates the fields around it for many miles, who has a problem? Is it Monsanto that the other farmers stole their patented genes? Or the farmers who have just had their crops contaminated by those same genes? Or???

    Seems to me the problem with GM crops is that they are by default shareware, even freeware unless the modification makes it impossible for their patented genes to be spread around. Then, despite the overpaid lawyers, it should be the farmers who have the right to sue for having their crops contaminated.

  • Re:What labels? (Score:3, Informative)

    by bar-agent ( 698856 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @09:28PM (#29524431)

    David Berg, president of American Crystal Sugar Company, the nation's largest sugar beet processor, said food companies had accepted sugar from the biotech beets. "They've been a big nonevent in terms of customer acceptance," he said.

    A "nonevent", eh? I bet there would most certainly be an "event" if there were labels on the food.

    You are probably right. There probably would be in an event if there were labels on the packaging. But that would still be stupid, because, look, sugar is sugar. It doesn't have ingredients, it has a specific chemical composition and shape (it's crystal sugar, even says so in the company's name). Sugar from genetically engineered plants is exactly the same as sugar from a natural plant, or a chemical process, or fallen from heaven!

  • by Bent Spoke ( 972429 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @10:52PM (#29524913)

    What? Where did you get that. I think you need to check your facts.
    From the wikipedia page: []

    >Schmeiser's principal defence at trial was that as he had not applied >Roundup herbicide to his canola he had not used the invention. This >argument was rejected;

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