Thursday, January 28, 2010

Q&A about genetically modified sugar beets

Opponents of genetically modified sugar beets have filed a request for a preliminary injunction last week in U.S. District Court for the Northern Division of California. If approved, the injunction could force farmers to return to planting traditional seeds in the future. The vast majority of U.S. farmers – about 95 percent – planted the seeds in question during 2009. 

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Since Roundup Ready beets were approved for use in 2005, farms all over the country quickly began using the seeds. The seeds are genetically modified (GM) to withstand the herbicide Roundup, which many farmers favor because it requires fewer applications than other traditional herbicide chemicals and does a good job of protecting sugar beets from weeds.

Monsanto spokesman Garrett Kasper answered the following questions via phone and e-mail interviews with the Lovell Chronicle Tuesday:

Could this litigation affect the 2010 growing season?
As of now, the Court has not taken any action since Dec. 4 that would restrict growers' choice to plant Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2010. While we are unable to predict how the court will ultimately rule in the remedy phase, or if the judge will alter the court schedule based on this request, the plaintiff’s request for an injunction at this point in the case is unwarranted simply based on sound factual and legal principles.

How would you respond to those who have concerns about GM crops?
Opponents of GM crops often describe them as “untested” and “unsafe.” This is simply untrue. In fact, many opponents of biotech or GM crops do not have any background in science or agriculture, and rely on something sensational they’ve seen on the Internet and forwarded on. Many opponents of GM also use scare tactics that unfairly attack this technology, and/or intentionally leave out key details, which can be very misleading.

How is the process in GM plants different than what is happening in nature?
A plant’s DNA is like its own internal roadmap. It naturally grows and develops as it has been programmed to by its previous generation. With breeding, seed companies introduce the absolute best lines to each other to grow stronger plants with the best traits possible (farmers have been doing this for thousands of years with animals and crops). Breeding techniques provide plants with very good information on their maps.

With biotech, we’re able to take breeding a step farther and introduce genes to the plant that adds additional information to their roadmap. For example, we have the technology to make it resistant to glyphosate (aka Roundup). While it kills weeds throughout the field, the plant is immune to that herbicide application (when applied properly). We also have introduced the Bt protein, which kills insect larvae before they destroy the plant or its root system. There are other options, too, such as drought-resistant technology and the ability to “stack” traits.

Is the Roundup Ready system safe?
In the past, combinations of horribly unsafe, harsh chemicals were required for weed control. Roundup has been used for many years. Other chemicals go into the soil, but Roundup is applied to the leaf and is non-leaching. As far as herbicides go, Roundup is one of the safest on the market.
Also, Monsanto is working with some of the best scientists in the world. If they foresee a problem, they can make adjustments. That is an issue with any herbicide treatment, but something easily managed.

What are the advantages or the Roundup Ready system?
It’s a quality of life issue for growers. It’s purchasing chemicals, storage and handling fees, the labor involved in spraying a dozen more times a year, compared to spraying Roundup once or twice a year. The time and energy spent is radically different with the Roundup Ready system.

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