Many of the most important points about the debate over genetically modified sugar beets were either glossed over or ignored in Matt Jenkins' story "Biotech beet-down" (HCN, 10/12/09).
For example, Jenkins states that Monsanto developed Roundup Ready beets a decade ago but they were put on hold due to public outrage, implying that it was public sentiment, and not regulatory issues, that kept the beet crop GMO-free. If this is so, then why, when they were quietly "deregulated" in 2005, did GMO sugar beets quickly take over?
Jenkins also leaves largely unchallenged the argument that farming with GMO crops is good for the farmer and the environment. Saying the biotech beets "couldn't arrive soon enough" for many farmers and then quoting Duane Grant on their benefits deserves a better rebuttal than a brief mention of Roundup-resistant weeds in other parts of the country.
Jenkins mentions that the Willamette Valley produces beet and chard seed that could be contaminated. However, he fails to point out that organic seed growers here stand to lose their organic certification –– and thus their livelihood –– from a single contamination event from GMO beet seed. There are no safeguards in place to isolate GMO beet-seed fields from other crops.