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Monday, December 22 2014 @ 03:16 PM CST

Action Alert! Stop Monsanto's RoundUp Ready (RR) Sugar Beet!

News ArchiveThis coming spring Monsanto plans to unveil its RoundUp ready (RR) sugar beet, designed to withstand heavy doses of the herbicide, glyphosate. In preparation for this announcement, the EPA has already increased the acceptable limit of glyphosate residue in sugar beet roots by 5000%. “Basically, we have not run into resistance,” said David Berg, president of American Crystal Sugar, quoted in the 11/27/07 New York Times, “We really think that consumer attitudes have come to accept food from biotechnology.”

Beets have been grown and eaten by people and their animals for thousands of years, with first written mention from Mesopotamia in the 8th century B.C. This herbaceous biennial can grow up to 2 meters tall and is well known for its high levels of Vitamin C in the roots, Vitamin A in the leaves, and antioxidants throughout. A typical table beet has up to 10% sugar in its root, while a sugar beet boasts 15-20% sugar content. Beets have also been used since Roman times for a wide variety of medical purposes.

Monsanto and KWS, a German seed outfit, first unveiled their GE sugar beet (H7-1) back in 2004, and this patented variety was quickly rubberstamped by the FDA and USDA. It was temporarily shelved, though, when U.S. sugar processors and candy makers came out in opposition, fearing a consumer backlash to this latest genetically engineered food. Their resolve has weakened since then, which is why consumer rights and family farmer advocates are launching a renewed campaign to block GE sugar beet in 2008.

Over half of the sugar used in the U.S. now comes from sugar beets, grown by about 12,000 farmers on 1.4 million acres scattered across the northern U.S. from OR to MI. Much of the industry is located in the Red River Valley straddling MN and the Dakotas which is where Crystal Sugar is based, the largest cooperative sugar beet processor in the U.S. responsible for 15% of total production.

According to a recent Univ. of ND survey, about 57% of sugar beet growers cite weeds as their biggest problem, which would point to a potential demand for Monsanto's RR version. Of course, a farmer can never actually own Monsanto's patented crops, so the technology fee would amount to about $100 per 100,000 seeds per year ($50-$65/acre) - about twice the cost of conventional sugar beet seeds. Potential buyers of Monsanto’s RR sugar beets have also been told that they can expect to spray glyphosate up to five times annually.

For years the sugar beet industry has benefited from a quota system limiting imports of cane sugar from Latin America and the Caribbean under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Ironically enough, the decision to crawl into bed with Monsanto could jeopardize consumer trust in and political support for an industry that has long prided itself on producing a natural alternative to genetically engineered high fructose corn syrup and providing a more socially responsible agricultural model to the horribly exploitative conditions found on many tropical sugarcane plantations.

According to Monsanto’s supporters, consumer fears about GE sugar are unfounded since it is a refined product that contains no DNA or proteins, just the chemical sucrose. “While the sugar beet is genetically different, the sugar is the same,” argues Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association and co-chairman of the Sugar Industry Biotech Council. Unresolved is the fact that sugar beet residue is widely used as a fertilizer on fields for other crops and sugar beet juice (mixed with salt) is now being touted as a biodegradable de-icing compound on winter roads. High levels of glyphosate application with other RR crops are blamed for a host of environmental problems – from frog mutations to problems with symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria in plant roots – and this situation would only be aggravated by GE sugar beet planting. Glyphosate is responsible for a third of all pesticide poisonings among CA farmworkers, and an estimated 63 weeds in the U.S. have now developed resistance.

About 3% of U.S. beet sugar production is currently exported and since all genetically engineered foods are required to have explicit consumer labeling in Europe, if Monsanto is allowed to fully commercialize its GE sugar beet, U.S. food manufacturers would most likely have to switch to cane sugar in order to keep those overseas markets. While the European Union has officially allowed the import of GE sugar beet for human and animal consumption, it will not allow the patented variety to be planted there.

Widespread introduction of RR sugar beet also bodes ill for the future of table beets, swiss chard, and mangold (a fodder beet used for livestock feed). The bulk of sugar beet seeds are grown in OR, a key seed growing area for other related crops in the Beta vulgaris family. “Contamination from genetically engineered pollen is a major risk to both the conventional and organic seed farmers, who have a long history in the Willamette Valley,” said the Organic Seed Alliance’s Director of Advocacy, Matthew Dillon. “The economic impact of contamination affects not only these seed farmers, but the beet and chard farmers who rely on the genetic integrity of their varieties. The government is playing fast and loose with these farmers’ livelihoods.”

On Jan 22, 2008 family farmers, consumer advocates, and conservation groups filed suit in federal court challenging the USDA’s deregulation of Monsanto’s RR sugar beet. Attorneys from the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice are representing plaintiffs Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Seeds. Building upon the successful court ruling against Monsanto’s RR alfalfa, this lawsuit seeks a thorough assessment of environmental, health, and associated economic impacts as required by federal law.

If you are worried about the integrity of natural beet sugar in the U.S. now is the time to express your concerns. Please contact the companies below to say that you will not be buying any products that may contain Monsanto’s GE beet sugar.

David J. West, CEO
100 Crystal A Drive
Hershey, PA 17033
Tel. 1-800-468-1714

M&M Mars
Paul S. Michaels, President
6885 Elm St.,
McLean, VA 22101
Tel. 1-800-627-7852

American Crystal Sugar Company
David Berg, President
101 North 3rd Street
Moorhead, MN 56560
Tel. 1-218-236-4400

James Jenness, Chairman and CEO
One Kellogg Square
Battle Creek, MI 49016-3599
Tel. 1-800-962-1413

For more info, contact:

Center for Food Safety
Tel. 202-547-9359 www.centerforfoodsafety.org

Family Farm Defenders
Tel. 608-260-0900 www.familyfarmdefenders.org
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