SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Lifestyle

July 24, 2009

Genetically modified sugar beet leaving bad taste

It's true that we really do not have a clear picture of what genetically modified food crops can do to our bodies over time. But we do know that if crops are genetically modified to withstand increased pesticide use, we'll have more toxics in our drinking water sources.

Take the scary case of the sugar beet, which more than half of U.S. sugar supplies are made from.

Since the turn of the 20th century, warmer states have been growing sugar beet as a profitable crop rotator. "Beet Fever" is as high as ever with Monsanto's Roundup Ready beet seed — which is genetically engineered to resist glyphosphate herbicides, use of which has skyrocketed.

Growers can apply 96 ounces of the herbicide per acre without harming the beets, where non-genetically modified vegetables would not tolerate such levels.

In 2008, Roundup Ready beets accounted for 58 percent of the total U.S. crop. However, nearly 90 percent of this year's Western Sugar Collaborative crop, which represents 1,400 growers in four U.S. states, has been planted with the modified seed, according to the collaborative.

Growers are thrilled because the highest yields per acre are predicted for 2009, and the success of the crop is being attributed to the modified seed. With sugar prices having plummeted 15 percent in mid-2008 and constant threat from cheaper sugar imports, growers saw 2008 record yields in Colorado, Montana and other states as welcome news.

However, high yield of a GMO crop does not bode well for food safety advocates that question use of the product pervading countless, unlabeled foods. Concerns include:

Genetic contamination to organic sugar beet and sugar markets since the crop is wind-pollinated.

Vast increases in water quality impacts and herbicide residues in sugar product due to increased herbicide application.

Threat to crop sustainability by reducing biodiversity to one seed manufactured by one company.

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