A federal judge ruled last summer that farmers could not plant genetically modified sugar beets until the U.S. Department of Agriculture completed an environmental impact study. While its final report has not been issued, the USDA released a plan to let farmers plant them while the lawsuit is resolved.
Sugar beets are responsible for 50 percent of the nation's sugar supply – over 95 percent of sugar beets are grown using "Roundup Ready" seeds that are engineered to withstand Roundup, the potent weed killer. While the engineered seeds reduce farming costs and limit tilling, they could have an environmental impact on conventional crops.
The dispute has the potential to greatly affect U.S. sugar supplies. Frank Jenkins, of the Jenkins Sugar Group, told the AP that if farmers are forbidden from planting the genetically modified seeds, it "would result in a 20 percent reduction in the nation's sugar supply," forcing the U.S. to import sugar to prevent price increases. The price of refined sugar has already jumped almost 25 cents in two years.
The result of the USDA's eagerly anticipated study will have far-reaching effects in both the price of sugar and farming profits. In the U.S., sugar beets are planted on more than one million acres in 10 states.