Politics of the Plate: Change We Can’t Believe In

The new administration is making great strides in food policy—except when it comes to the issue of genetic modification.
sugar beet field

Guantanamo may be closing, banks may be coming under closer scrutiny, and a garden may be going in on the White House lawn, but on one front, it’s business as usual in Washington: The Bush administration’s go-go position on genetically modified (GM) crops has been embraced wholeheartedly by Obama and Co.

That became clear last week, when the Department of Justice replied to a judge’s request to hear whether there had been any official change in the government’s position in a lawsuit filed against the USDA by the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club, and other organizations. The suit asks that the USDA revoke its decision to allow GM sugar beets to be cultivated commercially until the Agency completes an environmental impact statement. “The United States hereby states that its position has not changed,” the Justice Department said in court papers.

The beet seeds in question are sold by Monsanto Co. and are designed to be used in conjunction with its herbicide Roundup. The organizations sued, saying that wind-blown pollen from the GM crops could contaminate conventional sugar beets and other related crops such as chard and table beets. They also claimed that Roundup contains a “potent mix of chemicals that can be toxic to consumers, workers, birds, insects, aquatic organisms, and plants.”

“We are very disappointed that the USDA and Secretary Vilsack did not take this important opportunity to reverse the Bush Administration’s flawed position on GMOs,” the Center’s lawyer, Zelig Golden, told the Web news service Sustainable Food News.

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