When the USDA allowed farmers to plant GM sugar beets before "enough research had been conducted to determine environmental impact," the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Sierra Club brought the issue to court. A judge ruled against the USDA last August, but by September the USDA was issuing "non-flowering permits" to growers in Arizona and Oregon (where most sugar beets are grown).
"The government didn't look at how these GMOs could contaminate organic table beets or Swiss chard, which are in the same family," says Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety. "The court said that going forward it was illegal to plant any GMO sugar beets. While it was okay to harvest what was already in the ground, it wasn't legal to sell any GMO sugar beet seeds."
Judge Jeffrey White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will hear more arguments in the case this Friday. The Wall Street Journal says that if GMO seeds are banned, sugar production could be cut by as much as 20%.
"The food industry is worried that a shortage of sugar-beet seed and a potential shortage of farmers willing to grow it will limit supplies and raise prices," writes AgJournal reporter Candace Krebs.
The politics and practices involved in producing GMO crops, coupled with the high sugar tariffs in the US, could have very significant effect on future sugar prices.