The genetically modified organism debate continues this week after a federal judge in California ruled today that the government must conduct a more thorough Environmental Impact Statement before genetically engineered sugar beet seeds can be planted.
GMOs are seeds or plants that have had their DNA altered in a lab in order to be more resilient or to grow in certain conditions (such as in smaller fields or in a drought climates), thereby resulting in higher crop yields. The beets in question (which are processed to make sugar) are genetically engineered by Monsanto to be “Round-up Ready.” In other words, the beets themselves will be left unharmed when sprayed with the powerful Round-up herbicide, killing only unwanted weeds and pests.
Organic farmers, who were some of the plaintiffs in the case, have a strong interest in preventing “cross-pollination” of GMO and non-GMO seeds, which can occur by natural processes like wind, bees, and birds. Federal standards mandate that genetically modified foods cannot bear a USDA organic label, thereby threatening organic farmers’ livelihoods.
GMOs are particularly controversial. Advocates claim that they allow humans to grow more food more efficiently, and could thereby be helpful in alleviating worldwide hunger. Opponents claim that not enough testing has been done to determine the safety of these kinds of crops as well as their effect on humans and the environment. From the California Independent Voter Network:
“A growing body of research has also linked genetically modified foods to organ failure in lab animals. Andrew Kimbrell, the Center for Food Safety’s executive director said in a statement, “Hopefully, the agency will learn that their mandate is to protect farmers, consumers and the environment and not the bottom line of corporations such as Monsanto.”