GM Sugar Beets & Rising Concern For Food Security

746px-children_and_sugar_beets_nebraska_1940Genetically modified sugar beets make up almost the entire crop for commercial sugar production in the United States, banking 95% of the market. As genetically modified foods are re-examined in the U.S. Court system (due to a number of reasons, but probably not excluding recent cross-contamination reports from around the world), the effects of such dependency on a genetically modified crop will be painfully self-evident.

The New York Times reports, "In the most recent court ruling, on Tuesday , a federal judge in San Francisco ordered that 256 acres of baby beet plants intended to make seeds for future sugar beet crops be pulled from the ground ... In unusually harsh language, Judge Jeffrey S. White of the United States District for Northern California said that the Agriculture Department and the seed industry appeared to have been trying to get around an earlier order from him barring the planting of genetically modified beets."

It should come as no surprise that biotech giant Monsanto holds license of the genetically modified beet in question. And because farmers are required to purchase new biotech seeds every year (as opposed to saving seed or - in this case - stecklings), beet farmers are in a state of poli-ag gridlock.

About half of United States sugar comes from sugar beets; the other half comes from sugar cane produced mostly in Louisiana followed by Florida, Puerto Rico & Hawaii. Sugar is big, big business in the United States. Without it, our entire industrial, pre-packed, processed and ready-to-eat system would fall to ashes, because sugar is a preservative, much like salt. It is in everything.

To further the trouble, the article brings up a very important point, "If farmers cannot plant the genetically engineered seeds next spring, they will have to rely on conventional seeds. Most of these seeds are left over from three or more years ago, before the new genetically engineered seeds swept the market ... Government experts predict there will not be enough conventional seed to go around."

And then once one considers the immediate restriction of planting GM sugar beets over organic and how it could put many sugar factories in an economic bind creating considerable job losses for which, really, Monsanto should be held responsible. If the sugar beets weren't sufficiently tested, why would Monsanto allow their premature sale?

This is a perfect example of why it is necessary to support local small farms that practice and encourage biodiversity by saving seed, raising organic and heirloom seed and protecting their crops with diversity. Monocultures will provide a cheap fix for the immediate, but they have no sustainable power, and genetically modified crops only enhance the worst parts of monoculturism. We may have to buckle down and use a little less sugar over the next couple years while the government figures out all the regulations, but at any cost, we ought to ensure we are buying organic sugar to offset the imbalance of genetically modified sugar beets, thus enhancing our food independence and security.

Photo credit: "Children and Sugar Beets" Hall County, Nebraska, October 17, 1940. Vintage print. Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture. (16-G-159-AAA-6437W) Public Domain.