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USDA May Approve GMO Sugar Beets, Issues Call for Comments

Nov 12, 2010

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released a new plan that would allow growers to plant genetically modified (GMO) sugar beets while legal issues surrounding the seeds engineered to withstand the weed killer Roundup are resolved. The pending case has immense economic implications for food manufacturers, since GMO beets account for 95 percent of the U.S. sugar beet crop and 60 percent of the domestic sugar supply. USDA has asked for public comments on the economic and environmental impact of the seeds by December 6 and aims to release a final decision by the end of the year.

IDFA members that make ice cream, flavored milk and other products using sugar, about 200 companies in total, are greatly affected by low domestic supply levels and high input costs of sugar.

In August, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California vacated the existing deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets, which threatened farmers' ability to plant sugar beets in the spring of 2011. According to an Associated Press report, U.S. sugar production would be cut by 20 percent if farmers aren't allowed to plant the Roundup Ready seeds this spring.

On September 1, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced its intention to issue permits to allow the planting of GMO seed to produce seedlings. A week later, groups opposing the decision sued USDA, seeking the destruction of these plants. A hearing on the issue is underway this week in San Francisco.

Strict tariffs currently imposed by the United States on sugar imports make it difficult for food manufacturers to make up any shortfall by importing sugar. Tight supplies are already driving up sugar prices. World sugar prices have almost doubled since early May and are approaching 30-year highs.

"This unfavorable situation highlights the need for a more balanced sugar policy that allows more imports of sugar from the world market," said John Kelly, IDFA manager of international affairs.

IDFA plans to submit comments and welcomes input from member companies. For more information, contact Kelly at



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