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The GMO sugar beet

(article, Kathleen Bauer)

Nearly all of the seeds for sugar beets in the United States are grown in Oregon's Willamette Valley. This winter, almost all of the beet farmers in the valley will be using genetically modified (GMO) seeds developed by Monsanto. A consortium of organic-seed growers, organic farmers, and environmental and consumer groups has filed suit in federal court in northern California to stop them.

The lawsuit alleges that wind-blown pollen from these GMO beets could contaminate nearby crops of conventional sugar beets as well as other closely related crops, such as chard and table beets, and harm the burgeoning organic farming and organic seed-production industries in the valley.

The availability of organic chard and table beets at farmers' markets and stores could also be affected if the produce is found to be contaminated by cross-pollination (or outcrossing) between the GMO beets and nearby fields of organic vegetables. A European Union study conducted in 2001 found that wind-blown sugar-beet pollen could be detected up to five miles from its source. The state of Oregon only requires three miles of isolation between GMO fields and non-GMO fields.

The Center for Food Safety issued a press release that quotes the Sierra Club's Neil Carman as saying, "As a consumer, I'm very concerned about genetically engineered sugar making its way into the products I eat, as well as genetic contamination of conventional and organically grown varieties of table beets and chard. It's unacceptable for consumers to be exposed to untested genetically engineered ingredients in foods that aren't labeled. At a time when consumers are facing multiple food-safety challenges, we don't need more corporations messing with our food supply."