Not GM sugar beets!

GM sugar beets partially deregulated, and 2011 California Duck Stamp Contest starts up

Slippery slope
First, GM alfalfa, now GM sugar beets. On the heels of the USDA’s controversial Jan. 27 decision to give the go-ahead to the unrestricted planting of genetically modified alfalfa (see Feb. 10’s GreenHouse column, “GMOs gone wild”), a story appeared in the Feb. 5 edition of The Wall Street Journal announcing that the USDA OK’d the planting of GM sugar-beet plants as early as this spring. The USDA, said the article, “is trying to avoid a shortage of U.S. sugar.”

The USDA’s move thumbs its nose at the August 2010 decision of a federal judge that blocked the planting of GMO sugar beets pending environmental studies. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White, the Journal article said, “concluded the USDA should have conducted a lengthy study of the crop’s potential consequences for groups such as organic farmers before originally clearing it in 2005.”

Like GMO alfalfa, GMO sugar beets are termed “Roundup Ready”—meaning that the Monsanto Co.-produced seeds contain a gene that makes them immune to the herbicide Roundup, which is also produced by Monsanto.

One of the problems of planting Roundup-resistant GM plants is that they might contaminate organic farms via long-distance pollination. GM sugar beets, pointed out writer Tom Philpott, can cross-pollinate not only with organic, non-GM sugar beets, but also with organic beetroot and chard plants. Another problem—widely reported—is that the common use of Roundup in commercial agriculture has spawned a growing infestation of Roundup-resistant “superweeds,” resulting in the use of even more, stronger pesticides.

The USDA has tempered its latest decision somewhat—unlike in the case of GMO alfalfa—by banning GMO sugar-beet production in some places where seeds for organic sugar-beets are produced, such as California and parts of Washington. This is in line with a 2010 Supreme Court decision that ruled in favor of Monsanto’s claim that the USDA should be able to partially deregulate a GM crop in advance of the completion of environmental studies.

The Journal story dubbed the USDA’s latest GMO move “the second big victory for the crop-biotechnology industry in a week.”

Timothy Taylor’s winning 2010 California Duck Stamp art.

Ducks are really, really cool
The California Department of Fish and Game announced it is accepting submissions from March 1 through April 30 for its 40th annual California Duck Stamp Contest. The contest is open to anyone age 18 or older as of March 1, 2011.

Artists are invited to submit an original, “hand-drawn” picture in the medium or mixed media of their choosing of a pair (male and female) of Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks, the species selected by the California Fish and Game Commission to be represented in this year’s contest.

The winning duck picture will be featured on the 2011-12 California Duck Stamp, which all California waterfowl hunters are required to purchase. Proceeds from the stamps are used for waterfowl-related conservation projects.

The winner’s work will also be made available as limited-edition prints, as well as showcased at the Pacific Flyway Decoy Association’s 40th annual Wildfowl Art Festival in Sacramento in July.

Rules and entry form at