Another group getting solace from the USDA decision is the sugar beet industry where the same people who sued to stop the sale of RR alfalfa successfully stopped the sale of RR sugar beets. However, more than 90 percent of the U.S. sugar beets had already been planted to herbicide resistant varieties before the sales ban went into effect. Sugar beet growers are ready to plant the 2011 crop, but there are no conventional varieties to plant. The radical environmentalists also won an injunction to force the sugar beet industry to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement just like they did with RR alfalfa. A ruling on that sugar beet EIS is due soon.

If the department does not release RR sugar beets, growers say they may not be able to plant beets in 2011. Obviously, the anti-biotech groups expressed outrage at Vilsack’s alfalfa decision. One called USDA a “rogue” federal agency. “We’re disappointed with USDA’s decision, and we will be back in court representing the interest of farmers, preservation of the environment, and consumer choice,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety. “USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment.”

"A lot of people are shell shocked," said Christine Bushway, chief executive of the Organic Trade Association, which represents organic farmers and food makers, in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires. "While we feel Secretary Vilsack worked on this issue, which is progress, this decision puts our organic farmers at risk."

To appease the radical environmental groups, USDA also announced the following:

Reestablishing two important USDA advisory committees - Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, and the National Genetic Resources Advisory Committee. These two committees will tackle a broad range of issues, from ensuring the availability of high quality seed, to helping ensure that growers have access to the best tools available to support their production choices, to whether risk management and indemnification options can play a role;

Conducting research into areas such as ensuring the genetic integrity, production and preservation of alfalfa seeds entrusted to the germ plasm system;

Refining and extending current models of gene flow in alfalfa;

Requesting proposals through the Small Business Innovation Research program to improve handling of forage seeds and detection of transgenes in alfalfa seeds and hay; and,

Providing voluntary, third-party audits and verification of industry-led stewardship initiatives.

hcline@farmpress.com