GM sugar beets found in soil mix
2.Genetically modified sugar beet leaving bad taste
NOTE: Check out which companies have signed onto the non-GM sugar beet registry
1.GM sugar beets found in soil mix sold to gardeners
The Organic & Non-GMO Report July/August 2009
Contamination incident highlights challenges of containing GM beets
In May, genetically modified sugar beet plants were found in a soil mix sold to gardeners at a landscape supply business in Corvallis, Oregon. The contamination incident raises doubts about the ability of the sugar beet seed industry to keep GM sugar beets from contaminating non-GMO sugar beets and related plants.
Discovered in soil mix
The GM Roundup Ready sugar beet plants, called “specklings,” were found in Fertile Mix, a soil mix called sold by Pro Bark. Business owners Jeff and Julie Jackson said they had no idea the plants were in the soil mix.
An unidentified individual purchased the mix, found the sugar beet specklings, and contacted Carol Mallory-Smith, a professor of weed science at Oregon State University. Smith took samples from 10 plants, tested those using protein-based GMO “strip” tests, and found that about half tested positive for the genetically modified Roundup Ready gene.
Following the discovery, Pro Bark stopped selling Fertile Mix, but the Jacksons don't know how much of it had already been sold.
"Extremely difficult to prevent pollen movement"
The source of the soil mix is in question. According to one report, a farmer sold the soil containing the specklings to a materials handling company who in turn sold it to Pro Bark. The farmer may have been growing the GM sugar beet specklings for seed and accidently mixed the specklings with soil.
Seed for Roundup Ready sugar beets is produced in Oregon's Willamette Valley. In 2008, the first year of commercial production, an estimated 50% of the two million acre US sugar beet crop was GM.
While Smith acknowledges that sugar beets have been grown in the Willamette Valley for many years, she also says, "I believe that it would be extremely difficult to prevent pollen movement."
"Cluster bomb with Roundup Ready beets"
The incident sounded alarms for Frank Morton, owner of Wild Garden Seeds. Morton's organic seed business faces a direct threat from GM sugar beets, which could cross pollinate with his table beets and swiss chard plants. Morton has spoken out about the contamination risk from GM beets and is a plaintiff in a lawsuit to force the US Department of Agriculture to conduct a thorough environmental and economic impact study of GM beets.
“They screwed up. Right out of the gate you have problems. Nobody thought about leftover specklings. You can throw them on the ground and they will grow,” he says.
Morton fears that other people purchased the soil mix containing the GM sugar beet specklings and that these will take root and shed pollen near his farm, crossing with””and contaminating””his plants. He likens the situation to "a cluster bomb with Roundup Ready beets around Philomath (the location of Morton's farm). This is upwind of me and very close.”"
No discussion, no responsibility
Morton is frustrated because the two seed companies that could be responsible for the problem, West Coast Beet Seed and Betaseed, aren’t saying anything. “No one has stepped forward to accept responsibility,” he says.
Greg Loberg of West Coast Beet Seed told the Corvallis Gazette-Times, which first broke the story, that he couldn’t say anything because of the lawsuit.
Morton contacted the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association about the problem. “I told them this is trespass; I will make this an issue so they can’t keep ignoring it. Somewhere along the line responsibility will be assigned,” he says.
Could help lawsuit
Morton says the incident could help the lawsuit against the USDA over GM beets. Morton and other plaintiffs, including the Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Organic Seed Alliance, and High Mowing Organic Seeds, filed suit in a federal court in 2008, aiming to stop sales of GM sugar beet seed until the USDA examines the impacts of GM beets on the environment and on organic and non-GMO production. The case was scheduled to go to court this past May, but the presiding judge said he would issue a decision based on the written evidence. The judge’s decision is expected any day.
Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report July/August 2009
2.Genetically modified sugar beet leaving bad taste
Salem News, July 24 2009
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.
Emergence of superweeds that resist increasingly toxic herbicides due to wholesale adoption of Roundup Ready GMO.
In 2008, Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club and others to overturn the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) 2005 decision to deregulate Roundup Ready sugar beet seed and are asking that production, sale and use be banned. The groups argue that USDA has not conducted extensive research on the seed's safety and its impact on public health and the environment and are calling for National Environmental Policy Act review.
Several companies have signed a Non-GM Sugar Beet Registry, online at www.seedsofdeception.com/includes/services/nongm_sugar_beet_registry_display.cfm
This week's Green Quick Fixes are realizing how pervasive GMO sugar is becoming, checking labels and supporting the manufacturers that signed the registry. It's a daunting task considering that sugar is a key ingredient in millions of food products.
For more information on GMO activities, go to www.centerforfoodsafety.org.
Other uses for sugar beet
Sugar beet molasses or beet juice, a byproduct of the sugar-making process, is being tested in Ohio, Washington D.C., and elsewhere as a green alternative for conventional, freshwater-polluting road deicer. Combinations of beet juice and rock salt can make winter roads safe to -30 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a report by Mother Nature Network published earlier this year.
This is good news because high concentrations of rock salt hamper many cold regions' abilities to comply with federal clean water standards.
Another use for sugar beet may be in ethanol production, and it's possible that it may prove to be higher yield than corn. In a 2006 study, the USDA determined that processing sugar beet and refined sugar for ethanol production would be feasible, though costly because factories would have to be converted. The American Crystal Sugar Company is also studying the trend, and nations like Ireland and Brazil are also considering.
Andrea Fox, a Beverly resident, has been writing about environmental sustainability and eco-topics for nine years. She is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and a watershed protection advocate in Salem Sound Watershed.