Three weeks ago, I wrote about a federal hearing which could have ordered a nationwide halt to the planting and use of genetically modified sugar beets.
Currently, about half of the America's sugar supply comes from genetically modified sugar beets, which have been engineered to be resitant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. In a hearing scheduled to take place today in San Francisco, a federal judge could make a ruling which would order a nationwide halt to the planting and use of genetically modified sugar beets while the USDA conducts an environmental impact assessment - a process which could take two or three years.
The judge in that case has issued his decision, and it's a mixed bag.
Farmers will be allowed to plant genetically modified sugar beets this year but should be prepared not to use the crop in future seasons, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered yesterday.
The ruling will prevent farmers from being forced to pull beets out of the ground or scramble for new seeds as the growing season begins. The beets have become so entrenched that -- should their planting have been banned -- there would not have been enough conventional seeds for a full crop this year, the court said. The economic losses of an immediate ban could have totaled up to $1.5 billion, it added.
Judge Jeffrey White ruled on a temporary injunction, but he couched the ruling in a presumably intentional and overt glimpse into where he sees this heading, when this ruling is revisited in terms of a permanent injunction.
"The parties should not assume that the court's decision to deny a preliminary injunction is indicative of its views on a permanent injunction," White wrote. Until the U.S. Agriculture Department completes its court-ordered re-evaluation of the beets' environmental effects, White suggested that companies "take all efforts, going forward, to use conventional seed."
This summer, White will consider whether to ban the beets in future seasons, pending the environmental review. And in those considerations, he wrote, "the balance ... may likely shift when the court considers whether to issue permanent injunction."
In essence, the judge appears to be aiming for a compromise position which looks to give farmers, who are growing genetically modified sugar beets, the time frame of a growing season to convert to non-gm crops. While this may portend good things for non-gm farmers, a pending Supreme Court case involving Monsanto (which I've also written about) may have implications broad enough to render the genetically modified sugar beet injunction, ultimately, irrelevant.
In Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, No. 09-475, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case which could have an enormous effect on the future of the American food industry. This is Monsanto's third appeal of the case, and if they win a favorable ruling from the high court, a deregulated Monsanto may find itself in position to corner the markets of numerous U.S. crops, and to litigate conventional farmers into oblivion.
Other notable organic news:
The Department of Agriculture said on Friday that it would begin enforcing rules requiring the spot testing of organically grown foods for traces of pesticides, after an auditor exposed major gaps in federal oversight of the organic food industry.
Spot testing is required by a 1990 law that established the basis for national organic standards, but in a report released on Thursday by the office of Phyllis K. Fong, the inspector general of agriculture, investigators wrote that regulators never made sure the testing was being carried out.
The report pointed to numerous shortcomings at the agriculture department’s National Organic Program, which regulates the industry, including poor oversight of some organic operations overseas and a lack of urgency in cracking down on marketers of bogus organic products.
The audit did not name growers or processors that marketed products falsely labeled organic or say where any such products had been sold.The head of the National Organic Program, Miles McEvoy, said on Friday that enforcing testing rules was one of several steps the agency was taking to improve oversight of the industry. It will also require unannounced inspections of organic producers and processors and start regular reviews of organic products in stores to make sure they are correctly labeled and meet federal regulations, he said.
Last week, I watched the initial episode of Jamie Oliver's new American prime time television show, which is fantastic, and I can't wait to see part two tonight. I've frequently written about the treacherous state of nutrition in America's public school lunch programs, and Oliver goes into the belly of that beast. Sam Fromartz is a fan as well:
In an interview with Brit chef and self-styled food revolutionary Jamie Oliver, John Hockenberry over at the Takeaway says "I can't decide if you're the Kung Fu Zen master or The Beatles invading our shores."
What Hockenberry's referring to of course is Oliver's "The Food Revolution," which began airing last Friday on ABC and has its second episode tomorrow. The conceit: Oliver visits Huntington, West Virginia, a town of 50,000 that ranks highest in obesity in America, and tries to change its eating habits through the entry point of the school cafeteria.
The reception Oliver receives is neither one a Zen master or The Beatles would expect. Instead of quiet disciples or cheering teen-age girls, the chilly school lunchroom staff wonder just what the hell he's up to. I sympathized with them, after all, the idea that Oliver is launching a food revolution in the U.S. is, well, a tad overplayed, ya think? Regardless, he has a point to make, one which needs to be made given the sad state of our diet.
By the looks of it, Huntington is eating a lot of junk, through really no more than the rest of country. What sort of "food"? Pizza for breakfast at school, chocolate and strawberry flavored milk (which The Slow Cook pointed out was nearly indistinguishable from Mountain Dew), chicken tenders, followed by chicken tenders, followed by chicken tenders. The only real food on the school menu is the fresh-baked bread the school kitchen makes but most of which sadly ends up in the rubbish bin, as the Brits call it. Mashed potatoes form when water is added to a pearly substance. When Oliver makes roast chicken -- gosh! real chicken, not frozen stuff - the staff is nearly in shock but the kids don't bite. They go for the pizza, again.When Oliver pitches his plan to local radio host DJ Rod, he's nearly spit-roasted. "We don't want to sit around and eat lettuce all day," Rod says. "Who made you the King?" What Rod doesn't seem to get is that his neighbors are dying more quickly because of what they eat. But maybe he can't get past the messenger.
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