The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it will partially deregulate bioengineered sugar beets. The announcement, made February 4, 2011, by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, applies to sugar beets that have been genetically engineered (GE) to be resistant to the Roundup Ready® herbicide. The agency will retain a strict permitting process for production of the beet’s seed. Most of the crop’s growth will be subject to legal compliance agreements among USDA and sugar processors and beet cooperatives. The agreements will place conditions on the beets’ movement and release and will prohibit any GE beet cultivation in California or parts of Washington.

Roundup Ready® sugar beets, which carry a bacterial gene granting immunity to the herbicide glyphosate, provide a substantial portion of U.S. sugar production. According to press reports, several environmental groups are expected to challenge USDA’s decision. In 2010, a federal district court vacated an agency decision to deregulate GE beets and remanded the matter to USDA for the preparation of an environmental impact statement. Ctr. for Food Safety v. Vilsack, No. 08-484 (N.D. Cal. 8/13/10). See USDA Press Release and E&E News PM, February 4, 2011.