Genetically engineered sugar will soon be entering the U.S. food supply. Sugar produced by GE sugar beets will be included in a wide range of products, from candy to breakfast cereal to bread. None of those products are required to be labeled to indicate that they contain GE ingredients.
Sugar beets account for more than half of U.S. sugar production, grown on 1.4 million acres by 12,000 U.S. farmers. Americans consume about 10 million tons of refined sugar each year, and about 12 tons of corn sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup. With the introduction of GE sugar beets, the two leading sweeteners consumed in the U.S. will now be derived from GE corn and sugar beets.
The biotech corporations claim that genetic engineered crops are safe because the process is no different than traditional plant breeding.
But breeding does not manipulate genes; it involves crossing of selected parents of the same or closely related species. GE involves extracting selected genes from one organism (e.g. animals, plants, insects, bacteria) and artificially inserting them into another completely different organism. GE employs virus genes to smuggle in and promote the inserted genes, and antibiotic resistance genes to act as markers. All these inserted genes are present in every cell of the plant.
There has been no long-term safety testing of genetically engineered food, according to the Organic Consumers Association. Short-term animal feeding trials are sometimes conducted, but the research is done by the biotech companies themselves. No human trials for either toxicity or allergy testing are required—and no independent checks of the company’s claims are done.
The biotech companies claim that GE foods have been eaten for several years without ill effects. But since GE foods are not labeled as such, there is no way to trace what products they are in and who’s eating them. If there are negative health effects, no one could tell.
We do know, however, that food-derived illnesses have doubled over seven years, coinciding with the introduction of GE food. In the U.K., there was a 50 percent increase in soy allergies reported when GE soy imports began, according to Genetically Modified Food, a book by Andy Rees (Pluto Press, 2006). No one knows for certain whether these problems are due to GE foods, but labeling and adequate testing would prove how safe or unsafe these GE foods are.
Another myth conveyed by the biotech corporations is that genetically engineered crops reduce chemical use. The New York Times reports that the GE sugar beet is designed to withstand strong doses of Monsanto’s controversial broad spectrum Roundup herbicide. This encourages more liberal use of the weed-killer because there is no worry that the crops will be harmed.
In addition, herbicide-resistant genes are being transferred from genetically engineered crops to weeds via cross-pollination, so higher doses of chemicals are needed to have the desired effect. A study which analyzed the USDA’s own statistics since 1994 found that herbicide use has increased 15-fold with the planting of genetically engineered crops. If you think about it, it makes sense. The companies selling the herbicide-resistant GE seeds are the same companies selling the chemicals.
Farmers choosing not to plant GE crops can also be harmed financially by GE sugar beets. Beets are wind-pollinated, and pollen from Roundup Ready sugar beets could contaminate non-GE sugar beets and other food crops, such as chard and “table” beets. This would be devastating to organic farmers, who face debilitating market losses if their crops are contaminated by a GE variety. It takes choices away from farmers who choose not to grow GE varieties. There are no buffer zones or containment fields required for GE crops, and many farmers have already been severely affected by contamination from GE corn and soy crops, according to author Rees.
We, the consumers, have the right to know what we are eating and how our food is grown. We have the right to choose whether we want to eat genetically engineered food or not. GE foods are required to be labeled in Europe, Japan, China, South Korea, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries around the world.
If food manufacturers can label their products with GE ingredients or do without them for other countries, they can do the same for us. We also have the right to be assured that our organic products have not been contaminated by a GE variety.
Kellogg Company, despite entreaties from the Organic Consumers Association and numerous other nonprofit organizations, has stated it plans to use the GE sugar in its products to be sold in the U.S. (though its European products will continue to be GE-free).
Consumer groups, led by the Organic Consumers Association, have launched a boycott of Kellogg’s products, including Kellogg’s subsidiary Morningstar Farms, until Kellogg’s commits to sourcing GE-free sugar.
Protecting the environment, protecting farmers, and providing safe food for my family are important to me. Until Kellogg’s and other companies commit to sourcing non-GE sugar,
I will be boycotting their products. I urge you to join me.
Cathe Olson is the author of “The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook” and “Simply Natural Baby Food.” For more information, visit her Web site at www.simplynaturalbooks.com and her blog at http://catheolson.blogspot.com.