Sugarbeet Event H7-1

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Sugarbeet Event H7-1 is a genetically engineered sugarbeet that has had its DNA modified to withstand the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup). It is sold under the brand name "Roundup Ready Sugarbeets" and it is also referred to as "glyphosate tolerant" sugarbeets. As with all Roundup Ready Crops, a farmer planting RR sugar beets can spray the entire field with glyphosate, killing only the weeds while the crop survives. Roundup Ready Sugarbeets were initially deregulated in the U.S. in 2005, but their deregulation was challenged in court and reversed in 2010. USDA completed the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that the court had ruled was necessary prior to deregulation in June 2012 and, on July 19, 2012, it deregulated RR sugarbeets once again.


1988 Creation and 2005 Initial Deregulation

The Roundup Ready Sugarbeet was first created in 1988 by Monsanto and KWS SAAT AG ("KWS"), the parent company of Betaseed. Monsanto owns the intellectual property for the gene for glyphosate tolerance, and KWS inserted that gene into sugarbeets. The beets used were a proprietary line of sugarbeets belonging to KWS, and the resulting GMO crop is referred to as "event H7-1."[1]

Monsanto first petitioned USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for the deregulation of RR Sugarbeets in 2005. In March of that year, APHIS approved them for both food and feed.[2]

In deregulating RR sugarbeets, APHIS did not do an environmental impact statement (EIS), which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Instead, it performed a more limited environmental assessment (EA) and then issued a "finding of no significant impact" (FONSI) for the crop.[2]

Additionally, on August 31, 2005, Canada deregulated Event H7-1.[3]

2008 Adoption by Farmers

RR sugarbeets were rapidly adopted from farmers in 2008/2009:

"Sugar beets account for about half of the national overall sugar production. GE sugar beets have been widely commercialized in the United States since they were first planted in 2008/2009 in the western United States. In the 2009/2010 crop year, GE varieties accounted for about 95% of the 1.185 million acres of sugar beets planted nationally, up from about 60% in 2008/2009. Sugar beets are grown in 11 states, in five regions of the United States. Two of these regions are east of the Mississippi River, while the other three are in the Great Plains and far West. GE sugar beets have been approved for feed, food, and cultivation in Canada and Japan. [As of 2012] GE sugar beets have also been approved for feed and food use — but not cultivation — in the European Union, Mexico, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Russia, China, Singapore, and the Philippines."[2]

Lawsuit and Defeat

Together, the Center for Food Safety, the Organic Seed Alliance, the Sierra Club, and High Mowing Organic Seeds took the USDA (Thomas J. Vilsack, then U.S. Secretary of Agriculture) to court over its failure to complete a full EIS prior to deregulating RR sugarbeets. Around the same time, the USDA's deregulation of Roundup Ready Alfalfa was also challenged for the same reason. The case lists Monsanto Company, American Crystal Sugar Company, Syngenta Seeds, Inc., and Betaseed, Inc. as intervenor-defendants.[4]

"The court in the GE sugarbeet case did not formally prohibit planting sugarbeet, but it voided APHIS’s deregulation decision in August 2010, undoing the five-year-old approval of GE sugarbeet, from which nearly half of U.S. sugar is derived. APHIS issued four permits authorizing seedling production that would not allow flowering or transplanting without additional authorization. In November 2010, a judge ordered those seedlings pulled from the ground, holding that APHIS had violated NEPA in issuing the permits. The Ninth Circuit temporarily halted that decision in December 2010, ultimately holding in February 2011 that the seedlings did not have to be removed.[2][5][6]

The August 2010 ruling by Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that:

"The fact that the Court has already found that APHIS failed to fully consider the potential consequences of deregulation and that Plaintiffs have shown that deregulation may significantly affect the environment demonstrates that APHIS’s errors are not minor or insignificant. Moreover, APHIS’s apparent position that it is merely a matter of time before they reinstate the same deregulation decision, or a modified version of this decision, and thus apparent perception that that conducting the requisite comprehensive review is a mere formality, causes some concern that Defendants are not taking this process seriously."[7]

In his ruling, Judge White ordered that his decision applied to future plantings only:

"This vacatur applies to all future plantings and does not apply to genetically engineered sugar beet root and seed crops that were planted before the date of this Order. Therefore, such crops may be harvested and processed. The genetically engineered sugar beet root crop that has already been planted may be processed and sold as sugar. The genetically engineered sugar beet seed crop that has already been planted may be harvested and stored."[7]

While waiting for the completion of its EIS, on February 4, 2011, APHIS announced a partial deregulation of RR sugarbeets for root crop production only, as the crop is a biennial which only produces flowers and seed in its second year. RR sugarbeet seed production, which does allow the plant to flower and potentially cross-pollinate nearby non-GMO crops, remained fully regulated pending the EIS.[2]

2012 Deregulation, Again

In June 2012, APHIS published a final EIS and plant pest risk assessment (PPRA) for RR sugarbeets. "The final PPRA scientifically examined the plant pest characteristics of the RR sugar beet variety and found the variety is not likely to pose a plant pest risk to agricultural crops or other plants or plant products." On July 19, 2012, RR sugarbeets were deregulated by the USDA.[8]


For more information, see the Controversies section in the article on Roundup Ready Crops.

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