Sept. 23 marked an important day in the battle between food safety activists and biotech firms like Monsanto who produce genetically engineered food crops.
A federal district court judge in San Francisco reversed a previous Department of Agriculture approval of a new strain of sugar beets created by Monsanto that are resistant to certain herbicides. A bacterial gene in the beet makes them immune to a Monsanto-produced herbicide called Roundup, allowing widespread spraying that does not harm the main crop.
The judge stated that a proper environmental impact study would have revealed that the beets would contaminate other beet strains as well as other crops. The engineered pollen would, according the the judge, cause the “potential elimination of farmer’s choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer’s choice to eat non-genetically engineered food."
Though environmental advocacy groups Organic Seed Alliance, the Sierra Club and Center for Food Safety all celebrated a victory, it should be pointed out that beet growers had crafted a green argument in their favor -- that Roundup meant less herbicides, less tillage, less fuel and less runoff.
All of the above are likely to be true, but that does not make a genetically engineered beet "green." A similar case came before the court in 2005 regarding Monsanto-engineered alfalfa. In that case, the judge banned planting of the the GMO alfalfa and, had he not done so, it may well have contaminated every alfalfa crop in the state.