Roundup Ready beet legal saga

June 2011

beet topper
Harvesting sugar beet
Photo from Flickr
The tortuous issue of GM sugar beet, transformed to resist Roundup herbicide, has come to its final conclusion.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been ordered to prepare a full rigorous review of the environmental impacts of the GM beet before re-considering its future commercial use.

All planting of Monsanto's patented beet must stop and all GM beet planted since the initial ruling (now upheld) must be destroyed. As a regulated plant, GM beet is now illegal to grow commercially.

The attorney for the Center for Food Safety said:
“Today's order cements a critical legal benchmark in the battle for meaningful oversight of biotech crops and food. Because of this case, there will be public disclosure and debate on the harmful impacts of these pesticide-promoting crops, as well as legal protections for farmers threatened by contamination.”
Concerns surrounding Roundup Ready beet relate to its environmental impacts, especially the inevitable emergence of very problematic herbicide-resistant weeds, and the inevitable gene pollution spreading from the crop. Growers of organic and non-GM beet, plus growers of many related plants such as table beet and chard, will be financially damaged by transgenic pollination of their crops. More subtle problems could arise from impaired plant vigour due to contamination by artificial DNA, and such gene-polluted plants will have the capacity to absorb and accumulate glyphosate residues from the soil or from spray-drift (see WHAT ROUNDUP DOES TO PLANTS – GMFS News archive, December 2010).

Court orders to stop all growing of GM beet were first ignored by the USDA and then side-stepped by inventing a “partial deregulation” scheme (this decision is now the subject of further, separate, litigation that is ongoing).

Remarkably, in over 15 years of approving GM crops for commercial-scale production, an impact assessment like the one now mandated is only the second the USDA has ever undertaken. Both assessments were court-ordered.

The whole sorry affair of Roundup Ready beet has, more than anything else, shown that the USDA favours the interests of Monsanto over those of the American people and even over those of farmers, and that it treats the law with contempt.

More worryingly, in just three years since the introduction of Monsanto's GM beet, the seeds have come to form 95% of the US beet supply. Alternative bulk suppliers of non-GM seed are simply not available. Confident of USDA backing, neither Monsanto nor other seed producers, ever took the initial court order seriously enough to take action: there has been no attempt to fill the impending gap in the supply system and now it's too late.

The inherent dangers in our present food supply system are evident.

A dire warning and suggested action towards a solution have been provided by one US blogger: “As farmers lose the right and then the now-how to save seed for the next season's demands, you end up with a problem, a big problem ... (but) ... There is a way to help all farmers AND avert the ecological/economic disaster promised by large scale plantings of GMOs. Force agribusinesses to downsize and compete on a level playing field with family farms by buying local produce from farmer' markets (or local food suppliers). Or, start your own backyard garden. Support neighbors and friends who grow their own food. Small food producers hold the key to our survival as a species. This isn't hyperbole, this is documented fact. Heirloom gardeners and seed savers protect and strengthen genetic diversity needed for agrarian-based civilization to survive.”


If you have a garden and can't manage to work it yourself, think about offering space in it to local people who haven't any garden of their own. You might get some very nice flowers to look at and some nice fresh veg to eat in return.

If you don't have a patch of ground of your own, look out for city garden schemes to join. Check out GROW GLASGOW at

  • Monsanto's appeal of GM beets case dismissed, Center for Food Safety, 20.05.11
  • Chris Hinyub, Judge's ruling on GE beets exposes inherent danger in prevailing food system,

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