Friday, October 02, 2009

Beet Beat: The Wheels of Justice, Part 2

My mailbox, like yours, is often full of stuff I don't want and didn't ask for. But once in awhile something appears that makes me shout "Woo hoo!" and dance on the porch. (Fyi, after sixteen years my neighbors have become used to these displays.)

Today was such a day. When I opened the box and pulled out my copy of the Capital Press, an ag newspaper, who should be looking up at me with his big blue eyes but Frank Morton, plant whisperer and activist owner of Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, Oregon. I wrote a profile of Frank for Edible Portland magazine and was taken not only with his passion for plant breeding but his commitment to keeping our common biological heritage out of the hands of corporations.

So it wasn't surprising when he joined a consortium of organic-seed growers, organic farmers and environmental and consumer groups in suing the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) for deregulating the herbicide-tolerant "Roundup Ready" sugar beet seeds developed by Monsanto. Not only to protect his own organic beet and chard seed business from being contaminated from the pollen of the genetically engineered sugar beets also grown in the Willamette Valley, but also to safeguard the crops of organic farmers from the same potentially devastating contamination.

"This is not a political concern," he says in the article titled Organic Grower Inspires Beet Lawsuit. "I was concerned that contamination events would begin to occur that would make my seed worthless."

He initially was not inclined to file a lawsuit. As a member of the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association, he said he tried to bring up his concerns several times.

"I wanted to talk about this and talk about the impact of having genetically modified crops be a part of the specialy seed mix here in the valley," he is quoted as saying. "But no on wanted to talk about it. It was almost like it was an off-limits subject."

Now that a federal judge has issued a ruling against the USDA's deregulation process, the consortium is asking for an injunction banning new plantings until the environmental assessments are complete. Morton has little sympathy for the genetically modified sugar beet growers who are complaining the injunction would damage their businesses, saying it was obvious that the judge was going to rule against the USDA.

"They painted themselves into a corner with a spray paint can," Morton says. "If there is no beet sugar (next year), it's not my fault and it's not the judge's fault.

"I do feel vindicated," he said, "because everything I said to my fellow seedsmen, the judge has now agreed with."

The full text of the article is available at the Capital Press website, along with a companion article on the reaction of genetically modified sugar beet seed growers. Photo at top by Mitch Lies for the Capital Press.

Read the other posts in the series: The Beet Beat, In The Wind, The Fight Begins in Earnest and The Wheels of Justice.

No comments: