by KRISTIAN PARTINGTON
Canadian sugar beet growers are unsure of how the 2011 growing season will shape up, despite last week's decision by the United States Department of Agriculture to allow U.S. farmers to resume growing genetically-engineered beets.
Glenn Jack, chair of the Ontario Sugarbeet Growers' Association, said environmental groups and organic farmers have appealed the Agriculture Department’s decision to partially deregulate the beets. Canadian and U.S. farmers must wait until as late as the end of March for results.
“We were ecstatic,” said Jack, when discussing the Feb. 4 decision. “Now we've got a few other words.”
In 2010, a California judge halted planting of the biotech beets until the Agriculture Department prepared an environmental impact statement. The full sugar beet impact statement is scheduled for completion in 2012.
It's estimated that since the commercial use of glyphosate-tolerant sugar beets was approved in 2008 in both Canada and the U.S. It’s used for all of Ontario’s crop and 95 per cent of the U.S. crop.
Canadian growers can still grow glyphosate-tolerant beets, regardless of the results of the appeal, said Jack, but if the appeal comes through there'll be nowhere to ship the biotech beets for processing.
Last year's court decision placed the entire future of the industry in jeopardy, he said, and U.S. government officials recently projected a possible 20 per cent decline in U.S. sugar production because of a potential shortage in non-engineered breeds.
Jack said growers here are in limbo and unable to plan until a decision on the appeal is made.
“We just don't know which way to turn,” he said, noting that if the appeal is upheld growers will have to revert back to conventional growing methods and breeds that aren't able to tolerate glyphosate herbicides.
He's hopeful, however, that a favourable decision will be reached.
“We're not quite out of the woods yet, but I'm sure we'll get there,” he said.
This is the second decision on deregulation of genetically-engineered seeds by the Agriculture Department in as many weeks. On January 27 it announced the deregulation of glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa. BF