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USDA proposes special permits for bio-beets


Proposal requires third-party inspection, up to three years of field monitoring


By DAVE WILKINS


Capital Press


Sugar beet producers will have to hire third-party field inspectors and meet other strict requirements if they want to grow Roundup Ready beets next year, according to a USDA proposal.


The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service released a draft environmental assessment Nov. 2 in which it proposed that the sugar beet industry be allowed to continue growing and processing Roundup Ready beets, but only under special permits that require close monitoring and record keeping.


The 336-page document was prepared in response to a request from Monsanto Co. and KWS SAAT AG for partial deregulation of the genetically engineered crop following a federal court ruling this summer that returned the crop to regulated status.


Under USDA's preferred alternative, special permits would be issued to sugar beet processors or their grower-owned cooperatives.


Permit holders would be required to hire third-party inspectors and auditors who would be trained by APHIS to ensure compliance with all permit requirements.


Field surveys would be required to identify and eliminate any "bolters" from commercial root crop fields before they produce pollen or set seed.


Fields would have to be monitored for three years following harvest and any volunteer plants destroyed. If the same fields were used for other crops during the three-year monitoring period, the crops would have to be "visually distinct" from sugar beets or the fields left fallow, according to the proposal.


Seed companies would also have to meet several special permit requirements, including maintaining a 4-mile separation distance between Roundup Ready fields and all other related commercial seed crops such as table beets and Swiss chard.


USDA deregulated Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2005, but a ruling by a federal judge this summer returned the crop to regulated status.


The agency is working on a full environmental impact statement as ordered by the court, but the document isn't expected to be completed before May 2012.


The crop can't be grown commercially without a partial deregulation or other interim measures being taken by USDA.


The American Sugarbeet Growers Association is in the process of reviewing the draft environmental assessment, executive vice president Luther Markwart said Nov. 5.


The USDA will accept comments on the draft document until Dec. 6. Industry officials hope the agency will issue a final decision soon afterward.


"They need to do it expeditiously," Markwart said. "Our growers need to order seed in early December if they are going to get it in time for planting next spring."


Other alternatives considered by APHIS in the environmental assessment include taking no action until a full impact statement is completed or granting a partial deregulation as requested by Monsanto.


Comments on the draft document may be mailed to Docket No. APHIS-2010-0047, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238 or online at www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocketDetail&d=APHIS-2010-0047



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