Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets

Posted on March 12, 2011


In early February the USDA approved the planting and production of genetically engineered sugar beets.  The first crop will be planted this spring.  Unlike previous GMO approvals there was no Environmental Impact Study (EIS) done in this case.  Or rather, there is one, but it hasn’t been completed yet and the approval was granted anyway.

Here is an interesting quote from the article I linked to above:

“approving the GE crops before the EIS is completed in 2012 means that the USDA can essentially ignore the major issues associated with genetically engineered sugar beets—genetic contamination of related crops such as table beets and chard, as well as conventional non-GMO sugar beets, and the rise of superweeds caused by excessive spraying of the toxic herbicide Roundup. “They keep trying to find some way around the law and really at the behest of the biotech industry,”

Genetic contamination (basically cross-pollination by an undesirable source) is especially troublesome for organic growers.  Certified organic crops cannot be genetically modified.  So if an organic crop is genetically contaminated by a genetically engineered one, the farmer can no longer save their own seeds.  The cross-contamination issue is a big one.  Large enough to deserve it’s own post really, so I’ll come back to that later.

The upshot of this is that in a matter of months there will be GMO beet sugar on the market.  Because companies are not required to disclose whether or not they are using GMO ingredients you may not know if the sugar in your food is GM or conventional.  One easy rule of thumb is to choose products sweetened with “cane sugar” instead of just sugar.  (Products marked sugar can contain either beet sugar or cane sugar.)  As of today there are no approved strains of genetically engineered sugar cane on the market.

If you are interested in other ways to discern whether or not there are GMOs in your food stay tuned.  I’ll have more on the subject tomorrow.