It may be our last chance to say “beet it” to genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets. The National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) encourages consumers to voice their opinion on GE sugar beets to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by Dec. 6 though theUSDA’s public commenting period on the issue.
NCGA is a business services cooperative representing 114 natural food co-ops nationwide.
In August 2010, the U.S. District Court officially “vacated” USDA’s “deregulation” of GE Beets, making any future planting and sale unlawful until USDA complies with federal law and completes an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An earlier USDA ruling violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by approving the Monsanto-engineered biotech crop without first preparing an EIS. Recently, however, USDA released a plan suggesting farmers be allowed to plant GE sugar beets in 2011, before the EIS is completed.
GE Sugar Beet Concerns
Sugar beets are genetically engineered to withstand large amounts of the herbicide glyphosate. Concerns with GE sugar beets include potential negative health effects on consumers and the environment, as well as contamination of the nation’s non-GE sugar beets (which could threaten the livelihood of organic farmers and undermine the integrity of the USDA organic label).
The U.S. is one of the world’s largest sugar producers and sugar beets grown in the U.S. account for about 55 percent of our sugar production. As a result of USDA’s prior unlawful approval of GE sugar beets, 95 percent of all sugar beets planted in the U.S. last year were genetically engineered. This means the majority of sweeteners in the United States are GE products. (High-fructose corn syrup, made primarily from GE corn, is the leading sweetener with sugar a not-too-distant second.)
“Consumers deserve the right to choose what they eat and that includes the right to eat non-genetically engineered food,” states Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer for NCGA. “Since the USDA does not require manufacturers to label their foods as containing GE ingredients, keeping GE foods from further penetrating our food supply becomes even more critical. Consumers have the opportunity to tell USDA that they want to take GE beets out of our food supply.”
NCGA along with consumer and environmental groups continues to advocate for preventing deregulation of GE beets and for labeling of any GE products. Consumers can submit comments to the USDA through the regulations.gov website or through the Center for Food Safety’s website.