Insights by Goldie
The (sugar) beet goes on: GM sugar coming to market

Sound Consumer | August 2008

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

In our April Sound Consumer, we reported that a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) — “deregulated” Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready® sugar beet seeds (How sweet it isn’t: GM sugar beets, April 2008 Sound Consumer).

Deregulation is USDA jargon for “made legal.” So, for the first time ever, GM sugar beets were planted this past spring in Washington, Oregon and the Midwest. Soon they’ll be harvested, processed and refined, and the sugar will reach out and grab you by this winter. All unlabeled, of course, masked like a criminal.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley essentially is the organic specialty beet and Swiss chard seed production center for the world – yes, the world! It’s uniquely vulnerable to contamination by RR® sugar beet production, where cross-pollination can reach possibly to six miles.

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® sugar beets were planted by about 10,000 farmers this spring. It tolerates (absorbs) as much as 5,000 times MORE than conventional plants the levels of Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready® herbicide – the same glyphosate-based formula that’s patented exclusively for all of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® seeds. It’s a sweet deal for Monsanto. But not a sweet deal for the earth.

The RR® sugar beets are designed to be the only living plants (if that’s life) that survive spraying of Roundup. Ironically, Monsanto claims that all its products reduce herbicide use but research reveals a different story.

Herbicide use on all herbicide-tolerant crops has increased steadily, in part because the plants “tolerate” it. Mainly, this reflects increased acreage planted in herbicide-tolerant crops (such as field corn, soy and canola), which means more spraying.

Yet as spraying increases, more weeds develop resistance. That means more spraying more often. Remember that the Environmental Protection Agency (now there’s a misnomer.) also recently approved a request by Monsanto to increase by 5,000 percent the amount of glyphosate residues that sugar beets can contain.

Alarm bells eventually ring for some people — both the herbicide-addicted and anyone who’s half-awake, who may think “Oh well, they can reformulate.” Sure. And that’s sustainable, Monsanto? (see its Web site discussion of “sustainability.” Talk about greenwashing.)

Herbicide-tolerance is greatest in the sugar beet’s roots, the source of sugar. Refining removes the protein, so there isn’t even a way to check for foreign DNA and prove genetic modification. Not traceable. Same goes for GM canola oil and cornstarch, also produced with Monsanto’s patented herbicide-tolerant seeds and Roundup. Not traceable. Not labeled. Stealth GMOs.

A federal lawsuit brought against the USDA/APHIS by The Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club and High Mowing Seeds in January sought to block planting of GM sugar beets.

They were seeking to overturn the deregulation of the seeds because of outrageous and numerous violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other regulations, based on a wholly inadequate environmental assessment. Monsanto and an army of lawyers intervened, stalled and plantings happened.

The case nevertheless is going forward slowly but surely, winding its way to justice. It’s worth following. Read about it (and many other cases involving genetic modification) under the legal actions section at www.centerforfoodsafety.org. Also, visit the Web site www.organicseedalliance.org for updates on issues involving organic seeds.

For now, the ball is definitely in “our” court. We can and we must step up and make a difference for the farmers and for the future of our food. Do it even if you don’t (or think you don’t) use sugar.

The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility this spring launched “Don’t Plant GMO Beets” as a separate campaign. Read about the center’s general work at www.iccr.org. It’s backed by 300 faith-based investors with investment capital exceeding some $100 billion.

Their letter-writing campaign is very active, seeking to persuade manufacturers not to use GM sugar and to take a public stand on their Web sites and products.

In a telephone call today to a representative, I learned that soon they’ll be “naming names” — those who’ve seen the light — and those who still need more consumer persuasion. Visit www.dontplantgmobeets.org and voice your vote.

Finally, I really give a “hat’s off” to some excellent work on this issue by the Organic Consumers Association, a one-stop-headline service for all things organic. See www.organicconsumers.org and send another message via its interactive site. And stay tuned as “the sugar beet grows on ...”

More about: food politics, GE foods, GE seeds, Monsanto, pesticides

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