The Latest on Genetically Modified Foods: Beets and Apples

Published on Mon Dec 13 18:30:00 UTC 2010
Marion Nestle

The Latest on Genetically Modified Foods: Beets and Apples

I haven't seen much comment on what's happening with Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack (PDF), a suit to prevent planting of genetically modified (GM) sugar beets because USDA allowed them to be grown without filing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

This is kind of after-the-fact because Monsanto's GM sugar beets have been planted widely for the last five years and now make up 95 percent of the sugar beet crop in the U.S.

As the Center for Food Safety explains,

The court outlined the many ways in which GE sugar beets could harm the environment and consumers, noting that containment efforts were insufficient and past contamination incidents were "too numerous" to allow the illegal crop to remain in the ground. In his court order, Judge White noted, "farmers and consumers would likely suffer harm from cross-contamination" between GE sugar beets and non-GE crops. He continued, "the legality of Defendants' conduct does not even appear to be a close question," noting that the government and Monsanto tried to circumvent his prior ruling, which made GE sugar beets illegal.

No surprise, Monsanto is appealing and is likely to be joined by the government in the appeal. Food Safety News quotes a Monsanto spokesman:

With due respect, we believe the court's action overlooked the factual evidence presented that no harm would be caused by these plantings, and is plainly inconsistent with the established law as recently announced by the U.S. Supreme Court," said David Snively, general counsel for Monsanto, in a news release ... The issues that will be appealed are important to all U.S. farmers who choose to plant biotech crops ... We will spare no effort in challenging this ruling on the basis of flawed legal procedure and lack of consideration of important evidence."

Food Safety News also reports that a Washington state apple grower has petitioned USDA to allow it to market a GM apple engineered to resist browning.

But wait. I'm confused. Isn't the FDA supposed to be the agency that approves the planting of GM foods?

This sent me right to the FDA site that summarizes GM varieties that are permitted to be planted ("completed consultations"). I see papayas and cantaloupe on the list, but not a single apple variety.

How can this company market a GM variety of apples if the FDA hasn't approved it? Can anyone explain what's going on here? Thanks.

This post also appears on foodpolitics.com.

This article originally appeared on The Atlantic's Food Channel.

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