agriculture Feeding the world

Greenpeace offers marker assisted breeding

Greenpeace on Friday called on the International Rice Research Institute to abandon its genetic engineering program as the environmental activist group offers marker assisted breeding as a safe alternative to bioengineering.


Dear Greenpeace,

I would like to call upon you to abandon your campaign against genetic engineering and offer up an alternative priority your organization could focus on to the greater benefit of the world we all share: Fighting man-made global warming.


Now you could argue greenpeace already is opposed to global warming. And you’d be right. They are. I guess my offering it to them looks pretty stupid doesn’t it?

The same could be said of greenpeace offering marker assisted selection to the plant breeding community that pioneered the technique and is taking full advantage of it, and has been for years in both the private and public sectors. Case in point:

agriculture Crop Profiles

Genetically Engineered Crops: Sugar Beet

Two sugar beets. From the USDA via wikipedia. (USDA you are awesome)
Two sugar beets. From the USDA via wikipedia. (USDA you continue to be awesome)

Scientific Name: Beta vulgaris*

Genetically Engineered Trait: Herbicide resistance.

Details of Genetic Engineering:

Sugar beets tolerant of the herbicide glyphosate (created by Monsanto) were de-regulated by the USDA in 2005**. ┬áThe beets were first grown commercially in 2008. Before the first seeds were even in the ground, the USDA was being sued in California for approving their cultivation. This fall (2009), a federal judge named Jeffery White ruled that the study of the environmental impacts of glyphosate tolerant beets (part of the data the USDA considered in its decision to deregulate the beets) should have considered the economic impacts of the herbicide tolerant beets on organic farmers. Since the ruling came at the end of the growing season,*** there was no time to breed new conventional seed to plant next spring. There may be enough seed next year, but if so it’ll be a stretch.

I’m keeping sugar beets on the list of genetically engineered crops, because there’s a still chance the plants will be grown next year. The judge still hasn’t decided if his own ruling should result in a ban on growing the beets. That’s all the detail I have room for here, but if you’re interested in the court case and the science behind it, I’d recommend checking out Anastasia’s excellent in depth follow up to the judge’s ruling.

About Sugar Beets:

Site Business


If you’re seeing this, it means I stayed out to late doing important science (read: hanging out in Calvin) and didn’t write and schedule my nightly genetically engineered crop profile. Sorry folks.

Here’s a review of the series thusfar: