Politics of the Plate: Beeting Down the GM Sugar Opposition

sugar beet

Coming soon to a grocery store near you: genetically modified (GM) sugar.

Or, more accurately, sugar made from genetically modified beets. Over the next few weeks, American sugar beet farmers—who, contrary to what you might think, produce more than half of the refined sugar consumed in the United States—will for the first time be planting seeds that have been genetically modified to survive being sprayed with Roundup, an herbicide sold by Monsanto Co.

The so-called Roundup Ready beets will join now-common Roundup Ready corn and soybeans. And like products containing GM corn and soy, products made with the new bio-engineered beets will not have to be labeled as such, according to the Organic Consumers Association.

That association joined several other consumer groups in January in a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture, in an attempt to prevent the introduction of GM beets, but so far, the court has not ruled, and beet farmers say the suit will not change their plans to plant the Roundup Ready crops this spring. In March, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a group representing socially conscious investors, launched a campaign to convince soft drink, candy, and confectionery companies not to use sugar from the brave new beets.

But David Berg, president of American Crystal Sugar Co., the country’s largest beet sugar manufacturer,  is confident that food processors will accept GM sugar. “We have not run into resistance,” he told The New York Times last fall. “Consumer attitudes have come to accept food from biotechnology.”

If he really believes that, I assume that after this fall’s harvest, we’ll see sacks of Crystal Sugar on store shelves clearly labeled: “Made from Genetically Modified Beets.”

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