NCGA Urges Consumers to Reject GE Beets

Apr 29, 2008

With planting season underway in many parts of the nation, National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) wants consumers to know that a recent deregulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will enable farms to plant potentially harmful, genetically engineered (GE) sugar beet seeds.

NCGA is a business services cooperative representing 110 natural food co-ops nationwide.

GE sugar beets – a core ingredient for refined sugar and sweeteners – are likely to contaminate the nation’s non-GE sugar beet supply as well as have a negative impact on consumers, the environment and family farmers.

Sugar beets account for more than half of the nation’s sugar production, with the balance produced from sugar cane. The addition of GE sugar will mean the majority of sweeteners in the United States will be GE products. High-fructose corn syrup, typically made with GE corn, is the leading sweetener with sugar a not-too-distant second.

GE Sugar Beet Seeds High in Herbicide Levels

GE foods have been genetically altered by scientists with the goal of improving the food in some way. Common GE goals include increased yields, spoilage retardation and pest and pesticide/herbicide resistance. Pesticide/herbicide resistance means that the plants can withstand the use of more pesticides/herbicides.

In 2005, the USDA began allowing the production of and use of “Round-up ready” sugar beets, genetically modified to resist Monsanto’s herbicide Round-up.

Americans consume 22 tons of refined sugar and corn sweeteners annually – found in foods ranging from sodas to candy bars to ketchups to peanut butter and cereals. According to the Center for Food Safety, sugars produced by Roundup Ready beets have greatly elevated levels of the herbicide glyphosphate.

A Risk to the Entire Sugar Supply

“Unfortunately, a producer knowingly sowing GE sugar beet seeds is only part of the problem,” Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer for NCGA. “There’s also the concern with cross-contamination.” When planting sugar beets, farmers wind-pollinate the seeds, which will allow for the inevitable cross-pollinatation between GE and non-GE beet crops.

“That means traditional farmers would not be able to ensure the integrity of their crops,” said Shrader “For organic farmers, it could mean devastation for their crops and for their way of life.”

Consumers Can Act

“With the USDA deregulation, much of the nation’s sugar and sweetener supply will be derived in part from GE sources that can be harmful for consumers,” said Shrader. “And, because the USDA does not require manufacturers to label their foods as containing GE sugar, individuals will have no idea what type of sugar they are consuming.”

“Enabling the production of GE beet sugar is especially frustrating for consumers, seeking truly natural, non-GE foods,” she added. “We invite concerned consumers to learn more about the issue and to voice their opposition to GE sugars.”

In 2001, sugar producers and providers such as American Crystal Sugar, M&M Mars, and Hershey’s announced they would not allow GE sugar into their supplies. Now, as GE sugar indeed begins commercial production, these and other organizations have not made assurances.

NCGA recommends the Center for Food Safety’s web site (www.centerforfoodsafety.org) as an informative resource for learning more about GE sugar beets, and other GE foods, as well as for voicing your opposition via their online petitions.