Insights by Goldie: How sweet it isn't: GM sugar beets

by Goldie Caughlan

This article was originally published in April 2008

Duane Grant, a sugar beet farmer in Idaho, is the spokesperson for the beet industry, and he’s convinced we consumers don’t care about the source of our sugar fix.

He’s so confident that he plans to switch all 5,000 of his acres this spring to growing Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) beet seeds, which tolerate virtually any amount of Roundup® herbicide while killing all other plant life.

In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — to its shame! — recently approved a request by Monsanto to increase by 5,000 percent the amount of the toxic herbicide (glyphosate) residues that sugar beets can contain. The roots are the storage unit and producers of the sugar! Now there’s a tasty treat for the kiddies.

David Berg, CEO of The American Crystal Sugar Company, a processor in Minnesota, agrees: consumers don’t care now. He says the industry wanted to switch to Monsanto’s program when the seeds were first approved in 2000 but waited until now to avoid consumer backlash.

With 10,000 sugar beet growers across Midwestern and Western states, we could be getting our sugar fix from Monsanto by this time next year. Of course, there will be no labeling, thanks to the Food and Drug Administration. The cheerful promotion of GM that has bedazzled the American Crystal Sugar Co. and many beet farmers reflects the slick marketing of Monsanto.

Check out its Orwellian Web site where black is white and facts are green-washed. Monsanto’s spinsters claim safety, less work, less herbicide use, and less labor. Farmers believe the propaganda and pay Monsanto more than twice what they pay for regular seeds. Sweet, huh?

The same seductive, short-sighted and misleading propaganda already has tricked farmers into buying Roundup Ready® soy, corn and canola seeds — all expressing toxic glyphosate in every plant cell. Meanwhile, evidence mounts that use of Roundup on these crops is not reduced.

Widespread plantings of these Roundup-friendly crops have increased dependence on Roundup® and created resistance in 60 species of weeds. Roundup® is the most widely used herbicide on the planet. It’s linked to mutations and death in frogs and other aquatic species, disorders in human reproduction and pregnancies, and is an endocrine disrupter

Monsanto denies it. That’s a sour lie, too.

An urgent lawsuit was filed in January against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on behalf of organic and conventional farmers, food safety advocates and conservation groups (really on behalf of all of us!).

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a division of the USDA, “deregulated” the seeds, meaning it cleared the way for unrestricted planting of Roundup Ready® sugar beets with no consideration of consequences. Plaintiffs seek immediate evaluation of all environmental, health and associated economic impacts of the deregulation.

Time is crucial. In the West, such as Oregon’s Willamette Valley, most of the nation’s beet and chard seeds are grown for organic as well as conventional seed companies. Numerous farms also grow several varieties of table beets and Swiss chard, both related species, for markets. Cross-contamination from wind-blown pollen of the Monsanto sugar beets is a certainty if they plant in the Willamette Valley. April is when such crops typically are planted.

The federal court where the suit will be heard ruled against Monsanto last year and halted planting of Roundup Ready® alfalfa due to the certainty of cross-pollination. Hopefully the court will apply the same rationale to this season’s threat of genetic pollution and destabilization of our food security.

In March, a new Web site was created by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), launching its “Don’t Plant GMO Beets” campaign. A broad-based coalition of nearly 300 faith-based investors, ICCR has holdings of more than $100 billion in invested capital. When it speaks, boardrooms listen.

ICCR’s campaign challenges 63 leading restaurant, food, beverage and candy companies — including McDonalds, Campbell Soup, Kellogg, Kraft, Sara Lee, PepsiCo., Wendy’s and Hershey — to tell agribusiness (and us) that they will not buy GM beet sugar. They were reminded that more than 50 percent of us consumers actively try to avoid any GM foods.

Please visit and see how easy it is to contact all the companies electronically — instantly. Better yet, pick a few and write them in your own words, which are more powerful persuaders than anything Monsanto can say!

Also in this issue

Your co-op, April 2008

2008 board election begins this month, Notice of annual PCC membership meeting, Board report

Gather, eat, nourish

The dinner bell rings. Family members scoot their chairs up to the kitchen table to share a home-cooked meal made from fresh food. This iconic scene has faded some in the last few decades.