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[SANET-MG] gm sugar beet
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMSBGS.phpISIS Press Release 07/12/04
GM Sugar Beet Gone Sour
A new GM sugar beet event has been deregulated in the United States. But
it is yet another story of poor assessment by the regulators that
seriously threaten organic crops. Prof. Joe Cummins reports
References for this article are posted on ISIS members’ website.
In October 2004, Monsanto Company (St. Louis, Missouri) and KWS SAAT AG
(Einbeck, Germany) petitioned the Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service (APHIS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for
non-regulated status for their genetically modified (GM) sugar beet H7-1
made tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate .
Six years earlier, Novartis and Monsanto had already obtained
non-regulated status for a sugar beet plant tolerant to glyphosate. The
difference between H7-1 and the earlier Novartis-Monsanto strain is in a
simplification of the genetic construction.
The earlier construction GTSB77 carried the gene coding for CP4 EPSPS,
the uidA gene and a modified gox gene. The CP4 epsps and gox genes
confer tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate and are derived from
bacteria. The CP4 EPSPS is an enzyme not sensitive to applications of
glyphosate, while the gox gene encodes the glyphosate oxidoreductase
enzyme that degrades the herbicide. However, the gox gene was truncated
during transformation and the 69% of the gene remaining is fused to
sugar beet DNA, resulting in a chimeric gene. Although mRNA transcripts
from this chimeric gox sequence are present in the sugar beet, no novel
protein is translated (the gene does not make a protein) and the sugar
beet does not have GOX enzyme activity .The uidA gene encodes
beta-glucuronidase (GUS), which serves as a selectable marker [2, 3].
The sugar beet containing this bizarre patchwork of genes and inactive
gene fragment was approved for commercial use in the United States
(1998) and in Australia (2002) and has been widely grown.
Sugar beet H7-1 contains the CP4 epsps gene from the soil bacterium
Agrobacterium, the modified figwort mosaic virus, chloroplast transit
protein from Arabidopsis and the same terminator signal from pea
employed in GTSB77. The difference between the two strains is that H7-1
does not have the inactive gox gene marker that was added to the earlier
The CP4 epsps gene has been used in a number of different glyphosate
tolerant (Roundup Ready) crops such as maize, cotton soybean. Even
though it is overtly stated in only a few petitions, the CP4 epsps gene
used in GM crops is a synthetic approximation of the original bacterial
gene, obtained by altering codons to the usage preferred in plants .
The synthetic genes bearing unique DNA sequences have not been tested
for recombination or toxicity even though they are entirely new to
The petition for non-regulated status triggered an environmental
assessment by USDA/APHIS. That review dealt with the spread of pollen
from the transgenic crops to weedy relatives of the sugar beet and to
neighbouring beet crops, and the danger of creating fertile weeds. As
transgenic pollen may spread by at least as much as a kilometre from the
production site (see following discussion), the matter is of concern to
organic producers who may be penalized if their crop is contaminated by
GM pollen. Even conventional producers have concerns about oppressive
lawsuits from the patentee if their crop has been contaminated with
transgenes. But USDA/APHIS provided cold comfort for the organic
producers and barely mentioned conventional producers.
The USDA/APHIS comments are revealing: "The National Organic Program
(NOP) administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)
requires organic production operations to have distinct, defined
boundaries and buffer zones to prevent unintended contact with
prohibited substances from adjoining land that is not under organic
management. Organic production operations must also develop and maintain
an organic production system plan…[that] enables the production
operation to achieve and document compliance with the National Organic
Standards, including the prohibition on the use of excluded methods.
Excluded methods include a variety of methods used to genetically modify
organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are
not possible under natural conditions or processes…. Although the
National Organic Standards prohibit the use of excluded methods, they do
not require testing of inputs or products for the presence of excluded
methods. The presence of a detectable residue of a product of excluded
methods alone does not necessarily constitute a violation of the
National Organic Standards. The unintentional presence of the products
of excluded methods will not affect the status of an organic product or
operation when the operation has not used excluded methods and has taken
reasonable steps to avoid contact with the products of excluded methods
as detailed in their approved organic system plan" .
USDA/APHIS seems to be saying that the responsibility for avoiding
transgenic contamination of organic products rests solely with the
organic producers and that it does not give any protection for those
producers. However, when transgenic contamination is inevitable, as it
is very likely to be the case, the organic producers may still claim
that the contaminated crops are "organic". USDA/APHIS seems to be
pushing for a declaration that transgenic contaminated crops can
nevertheless be labelled "certified organic". Exporters of transgene
contaminated crops will probably come up against a different viewpoint
among their importers, where market rejection of GM crops is high.
The extensive spread of sugar beet pollen has been established in a
number of studies. Using male-sterile test plants, production of
transgenic offspring was clearly established at 200 metres beyond a hemp
containment barrier and pollen spread in wind was as great as 1
kilometre . Recombinant DNA from the sugar beet pollen has been
detected in the soil at 50 meters from the test plot by PCR analysis and
by natural transformation of a soil bacterium, Pseudomonas .
Recombinant DNA from transgenic sugar beet has also been detected in
soil and by horizontal gene transfer for at least two years after
planting the transgenic sugar beet . Wild beet fertilized with pollen
from transgenic beets stably inherited the transgenic trait .
Over-wintering of transgenic sugar beet was found to be a source for
dispersal of transgenic pollen . The problem of horizontal gene
transfer in sugar beet has been discussed for several years  but is
barely mentioned in USDA/APHIS reviews.
Finally, GM sugar beet was found to yield significantly less than high
yielding conventional varieties . Results of the UK Farm Scale
Evaluations indicate that herbicide tolerant GM beet had more impacts on
biodiversity than conventional beet .
In conclusion, USDA/APHIS seems to accept the widespread escape of
recombinant genes from test plots and production facilities for GM sugar
beet. Even though USDA has taken on the responsibility of certifying and
regulating organic food production, it seems to be shedding that
responsibility, even to the extent of apparently encouraging the sale of
crops contaminated with transgenes under the organic label.
Clearly, USDA/APHIS cannot both promote GM crops and regulate organic
crops. An independent regulator of GM crops is long overdue.
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