Recent data showing sugar’s rising popularity over high fructose corn syrup is good news, right? Not if that sugar is genetically-modified. In fact, if you’ve purchased beet sugar recently, there’s a very good chance that you’ve unintentionally consumed a genetically-modified product. Industry statistics show that more than half of the sugar beets grown in the US in 2008 were genetically-modified varieties.
If that isn’t enough to make you cringe, consider the following: most of those engineered beets were Roundup-resistant, courtesy of agri-tech giant Monsanto. Last autumn under the Bush administration, the USDA approved the Monsanto seed without preparing a standard Environmental Impact Statement. But certainly President Obama, with an organic garden on the White House Lawn, would have done things differently.
In January of 2008, the Center for Food Safety –along with several other organizations including the Organic Seed Alliance and the Sierra Club– filed a suit against the government, insisting the USDA prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on the Roundup-Ready Sugar Beets. The lawsuit asked the government to halt the production of the modified beets until further information regarding the crop’s safety was released.
In addition to citing obvious concerns regarding the safety of the genetically-modified modified beet itself, the suit pointed out that the pesticide-resistant quality is affecting more than the just the engineered crops. Data shows that the modified beets have been consistently contaminating the plants grown nearby. Less than ten years ago, no Roundup-resistant weeds were documented; now, nearly two and half million acres of US farmland are home to Roundup-resistant plants.
It’s obvious Monsanto –who also developed Roundup, by the way– knows how to talk the talk. A sizable chunk of the Monsanto corporate website is devoted to their supposed commitment to sustainable agriculture.
While Monsanto can’t pull the wool over the eyes of savvy consumers such as the Seeds of Deception organization, the corporation somehow continues to fool the United States government. Despite the lawsuit brought against them, the USDA refused to release an Environmental Impact Statement on Monsanto’s beet seed, effectively giving the go-ahead for unregulated production.
But with a new president and a new agenda on the horizon, those fighting Monsanto looked to President Obama for hope. Days ago in a race against time, the Center for Food Safety asked the United States re-assess its previous decision “in light of the change in administration.”
Tragically, the USDA held its ground, and has refused to halt the production of genetically-engineered beets.
What does this mean for you, as a consumer? According to Beet Sugar Development Foundation, the decision means that genetically-modified beets will make up 90 to 95% of the 2009 crop — an astronomical increase, considering the 2008 growing season marked the very first harvest of altered beets.
And yes, sugar from the engineered beets is headed straight into food products destined for your supermarket and pantry shelves. Since genetically-modified ingredients aren’t required to be labeled as such, you will have no way of knowing whether or not you are consuming sugar from genetically-altered beets.
The good news is that list of corporations who have vowed to keep genetically-modified beet sugar out of their products continues to grow. To date, more than seventy companies have publicly signed the Non-GM Beet Sugar Registry.
The bad news? Despite President Obama’s winds of change, genetically-modified pollen is still circulating just as strongly as it ever has.
Image via karma-police on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.