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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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  • Forget the Beets! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheBilgeRat ( 1629569 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:10PM (#29516765)
  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:15PM (#29516845)

    "The only difference is in the people doing the modification and the techniques used."

    And the results being things that haven't evolved. And the fact that the radical changes that can happen with genetic engineering might not be best thing if they got into the wild.

    It's not the same, really.

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

    And that's not even to mention stuff like the Terminator gene, the GM equivalent of server-based DRM. If a crop containing that cross pollinates another crop that doesn't then you may have killed the livelihood of the farmer next door.

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

    by Havokmon ( 89874 ) <rick AT havokmon DOT com> on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:29PM (#29517051) Homepage Journal
    Corn? You just pass that in 4 to 6 hours, how about a little smack? http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.11/columbia.html [wired.com]
  • by MaizeMan ( 1076255 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:34PM (#29517137) Homepage
    I don't think many people would disagree. But the solution isn't to ban genetically engineered crops it's to change the law so a farmer can only be sued if he or she can be proved to have known (or had the information to know if they'd cared to think about it) that their seed was actually carrying the trait, and also benefited from the trait (ie it's not like the farmer benefits at all from having beets resistant to a sepecific herbicide if they don't actually spay that herbicide, which would have killed their beets if they didn't contain the trait.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:35PM (#29517173)
    Fixed it for you:

    The many more than three pillars of ""growth at any cost "corporate farming:

    • Pesticides laden food
    • depleted soils
    • damaged watersheds
    • phytohormones
    • do I have to go on?
  • Almost (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:36PM (#29517191)

    OMG, some company wants to make money by making farming more efficient , eco friendly, and create safer foods.

    You can scratch that "safer foods" part - no evidence to support that. In fact, one might try to argue that roundup-ready foods are full of pesticides which is another level altogether from the food modification itself. The other thing is that they are known to go after people who had their crops unintentionally cross pollinated with their proprietary crops.

    Their goal is to make money by taxing food, while possibly having a detrimental effect on food safety.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:44PM (#29517341)

    I think the Judge showed a great understanding in his conclusion. How many others would have the same insight?

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:53PM (#29517507)

    The biggest black market in the United States is the sale of unpasteurized milk. It just shows you how far people will go to do stupid things because they think every advancement made by man is bad.

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

    by shaka ( 13165 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @12:53PM (#29517513)

    There are a number of complaints against Monsanto, such as dumping of PCBs, in Wales, encouraging residents in Alabama to use known PCB-contaminated soil as topsoil, creating and marketing toxicins such as PCBs and DDT knowing they were toxic.

    Right now, though, the greatest danger with this company is that they are pursuing control of world food. They already control the majority of all soybeans and corn in the US.

    I guess that you're American, though, in which case your country benefits economically since the rest of the world has to pay you for IP, similar to the situation with Microsoft, BSA, RIAA, and MPAA, companies and organizations your government will do anything to benefit since your trade depends on IP.

    Don't be surprised if people in the rest of the world doesn't buy the propaganda though. And it doesn't have anything to do with the quality of the end product, it's the business methods that I object to.

  • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:00PM (#29517657)

    He's referring to a case in Canada. Monsanto claimed he had gotten hold of some Roundup Ready rape seed, and used it to grow a seed crop of his own. Monsanto has the patent on that, and farmers are required to pay Monsanto a fee when they grow it. This, btw, is long established practice - the first patent was granted Burpee for the Red Delicious apple tree, and every single RD Apple tree in existence is a graft linking back to that tree - and if an orchard decides simply to graft from one they have already and establish 50 more trees, they still owe Burpee the license fee. Same with hybrid roses.

    The farmer claimed that it was wind blown pollen from a neighbor's field that contaminated his seed crop. A couple of things that came out at the trial were that
    a) it wasn't a scattering, it was a whole field, and
    b) it occurred over multiple seasons, which negated his claim that he didn't know.
    c) Despite Monsanto's claims, contamination by windblown pollen can occur.

    Best guess is that he DID have a small patch of seed corn contaminated with the RR variant, but instead of destroying it and claiming damages from his neighbor, he selectively harvested it and planted another seed crop with it. Which is illegal, and he knew it. But since the story had the words "Monsanto", "GMO", "contaminated", and "farmer" in it, we wound up with most people forming opinions like the GP. If it would have been one of Monsanto's other patented but NOT GMO strains, the story wouldn't have gone farther than the local grange newsletter.

    Monsanto sucks for plenty of other reasons than using 50 year old precedent to enforce plant patent rights against someone who violated them.

  • by IKillYou ( 444994 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:08PM (#29517795)

    You appear not to have read the article.

    The judge's decision has nothing to do with food safety. This case is about a GM food crop, patented by an extremely aggressive company, whose potential for unwanted cross-pollination was not investigated nearly well enough.

  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd,bandrowsky&gmail,com> on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:16PM (#29517945) Homepage Journal

    This is human progress. These rulings about genetic engineering are foolish because they defend intellectual property for the expense of feeding people. The problem isn't the genetically engineered crop - its clearly better. The idea that humans should not be allowed to alter genes in the environment is stupid. Genes are altered all the time by everything, whether or not people do it is quite alright because we are not somehow separate from the eco-system.

    The problem is financial: it's that Monsanto and others have a habit of showing up on your doorstep with a bill because one of their genetically modified seeds may have blown onto your doorstep. If you modified the laws so that people who GM stuff blown onto their land could just use it, or, if their crops were dimished by the GM, they could sue, then you would not have this problem. It's like that for regular seeds. Why not be that way for anything else?

    I'm in strong favor of intellectual property rights, but clearly, intellectual property rights should not trump the rights of land ownership.

  • by COMON$ ( 806135 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:27PM (#29518121) Journal
    Actually, I teach them. And while yes, there are a lot of misconceptions regarding evolution and genetic engineering that I am working hard to fix, the vast majority of Christians are for GM foods. There are extremist wackos that get in the news but there are more non-Christians in the community screaming against GM than Christians. We use a considerable amount in crops on missions projects, we distribute modified grains to populations around the world. The GM foods allow for agriculture in places that would normally starve.
  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:27PM (#29518127)

    "I do not know you as an individual so I cannot say 'you'."

    Yes you can, you were replying directly to my post

    However, I can address the population that uses the phrase that you have used as that population I have had many experiences with.

    No, you can make assumptions and generalisations based on what you think I'm like due to a combination of life experiences and media characterisation. This gives you an excuse to address stereotypes and straw-men rather than the content of my argument.

    And it does have quite a bit to do with the argument at hand, artificial selection and natural selection are all mechanics of evolution and a means to change genetic material. Semantics matter, no educational debate can be had without an agreement of terms. In this particular instance, to say that artificial selection isn't evolution negates your argument. Personally I blame poor teachers and pop culture for indoctrinating you into believing otherwise.

    I didn't say anything about artificial selection not being evolution. I was talking about deliberate chemical or viral manipulation not being the same as either form of selection.

    I'm sorry if that was ambiguous, I didn't think it was *that* ambiguous though.

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:32PM (#29518209)

    "But there are plenty of cases of farmers having to pay license fees for "stealing" monsanto GM seeds and being unable to prove that they're innocent despite the distinct possibility of cross-pollination."

    Please cite some example cases.

  • Re:Why do you care? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EvilBudMan ( 588716 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:39PM (#29518343) Journal

    None of this is at issue here. It's the bio diversity or future lack of it that is in question, because of what?

    The company's aggressiveness in enforcing their patents that's what. Pollen blows with the wind but yet they expect you not to save seeds, not to let it out of your property and things that are just plain impossible. As a matter of fact the makers of the GM corn here should be hit harder than GM beets. If someone saves a seed to replant and it has mingled by accident with another farmers GM corn, they can be sued. So the impact it might have, is to have less species of the plant left to modify in the first place, leading to disaster if there is only a couple of kinds of GM corn left, and the succumb to some disease or something. There would not be something else to use instead if this were allowed to happen.

    Also, don't you think a farmer has the right to not use something if he doesn't want to? And..don't think an organism can't possibly attack a GM plant. It needs to be looked at in perspective, not just from the greens being against it for the wrong reasons angle. There is more to it, than that.

  • by Draek ( 916851 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @01:40PM (#29518357)

    Prove the "better" and "healthier" comments, and this whole issue dissapears in a puff of logic. And no, "a press release by a GM company said so" isn't proof.

  • Re:No (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shadow_slicer ( 607649 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @02:13PM (#29518951)

    So what? The farmer was just doing what farmer's have done for centuries! Every year farmers would save the seeds from the tastiest/most productive/most robust plants and use them as seeds for the coming years. It is only through thousands of years of this process that we have gotten the crops we have today. Why should a farmer stop using the methods botanical husbandry that have been employed for the entire existence of his profession just because his neighbor decided to stop and use GM crops instead?

  • by psydeshow ( 154300 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @02:18PM (#29519037) Homepage

    The problem isn't so much the engineering. That's just applying new technology to the age-old practice of agriculture.

    The problem is that Monsanto (and others) want to control the rights to the genetic code they produce. This puts them in the position to benefit from the natural spread (through pollination) of their intellectual property. Yes, they produced the code originally. But that code replicates naturally! It's like the New York Times coming after you for licensing fees because you have copies of their photos in your browser cache.

    There's tremendous potential for abuse in allowing a company to own genetic code in this way. How long before someone starts secretly creating viruses and blights in order to wipe out crops that happen to be missing a patented resistance gene?

    I'm just a dump web guy, and not particularly evil. If I can cook up that scenario, you can bet that it has crossed the minds of executives at Monsanto.

  • Re:More Sugar (Score:3, Interesting)

    by croftj ( 2359 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @03:28PM (#29520101) Homepage

    Don't tell the sugar farmers in Florida and Southern Texas (not to mention all of the sugar beet farmers) that their crops don't exist. It will just ruin their fantasy! Nobody likes a killer of a good fantasy!

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

    by bmacs27 ( 1314285 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @06:14PM (#29522937)
    I think a better analogy would be, "hey all you nuclear weapons producers, hang on a second, we'd like to see if it's a good idea to build all these nuclear weapons." Or, if you prefer your doctor analogy, "hey doctors, stop prescribing antibiotics every time your patient has the sniffles."

    Nobody is asking anyone to stop "experimenting". The problem is not the experimentation, it's the rapid, widespread adoption of GMOs. For the record, if you're profitable, you aren't "experimenting," you're "implementing." Just because it's high-technology doesn't make it science rather than industry. In science, the result of your experiment is much less tightly bound to your profit motive.

    You're comments on Asia are somewhat ironic. The use of Monsanto seeds in India has resulted in a massive backlash against the company. Farmers plunged into debt having been duped into believing in the "higher yields" of Monsanto products have been increasingly committing suicide as their crops wither. We aren't feeding anyone. Instead, we're taking away their capacity to feed themselves.
  • by jwhitener ( 198343 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @08:08PM (#29523961)

    Sure, most of what we eat has been modified, over time, by selecting for traits we need.

    Same goes for pets. However, a product created by GM in a lab has the potential for far less genetic diversity than selecting for something by natural processes.

    Say a lab GM's some corn, gets the perfect genetic set, and sells clones of that one perfect set. Its so perfect that everyone is the world starts using it. Along comes a disease that happens to really decimate just that 'one perfect set' of GM corn. There goes the worlds corn supply.

    Selecting for traits 'naturally' through breeding/growing/selecting tends to retain a much higher genetic diversity in the results.

    I think that genetically modified food can be done safely, but I think the science is still fairly young, and runs the risk of genetic mono-culture in our food/animal products.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @09:32PM (#29524455)

    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.

    If I recall correctly, Monsanto did have a nasty habit of flying a plane over and dumping some Roundup on your crop, and then suing you if that patch of crop did not die.

  • Re:Yes, and no (Score:2, Interesting)

    by IKillYou ( 444994 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @09:36PM (#29524479)

    You don't have to "prove" anything to file a lawsuit, and Monsanto launches many civil lawsuits based on "raids" (i.e. blatant trespassing) and anonymous tips. Remember these are civil cases, and the cost of defending civil actions can be more than even a large farm can bear.

    Read about Pilot Grove for a good example. The suit was settled last year.

  • Re:They can't (Score:3, Interesting)

    by twostix ( 1277166 ) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @01:14AM (#29525585)

    As usual of Monsantos defenders you neglect to mention that the seed he gathered was HIS SEED to start with on HIS LAND that was pollintated by the fancy new Monsanto Round Up Ready crop next door.

    What should he have done? Burned his fields, dumped his seed stores and packed up and moved into town because someone planted a Monsanto crop next door? I'm sorry but there is a 100% chance of cross pollination and if you retain a percentage of your seed each harvest for next year then that's OBVIOUSLY going to contain "Monstantos gene" and why shouldn't he then breed for it. They GAVE IT TO HIM. If they didn't want him to have it then they should have kept it out of his crop.

    Why is the burden on him to protect their patents??

    His seed became contaminated - seed that he and his family had been cultivating for generations. Explain to me how he should have gone about un-contaminating it and preventing it from happening again. 100 foot walls around his fields?

    Absolutely gut wrenchingly ridiculous.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling