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Politics of the Plate: Beeting the System

02.24.09
Sugar from GM beets could soon be finding its way into our foods—but 73 grocers and food manufacturers have pledged to avoid it.
sugar beets

Last fall, American sugar beet farmers, who produce more than half the sugar consumed in the United States, reaped their first genetically modified harvest—beets bioengineered to survive being sprayed by Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup. Those beets have now been processed into sugar, and could be finding their way into our foods. But we won’t know for certain. There is no legal requirement that GM products be labeled as such.

In response, 73 grocers and food manufacturers have taken it into their own hands to do what the government won’t do. They have formed an organization called the Non-GM Beet Sugar Registry and have pledged to avoid GM beet sugar whenever possible. Most of the companies are small natural foods stores, but the list does contain larger players like Organic Valley, a seller of dairy products, and Catholic Healthcare West, a large medical care firm serving California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Small as it may be, this movement can’t be good news for David Berg, president of American Crystal Sugar Co., who, before the GM seeds were introduced, told The New York Times that he was confident food processors will accept GM sugar. “We have not run into resistance,” he said.

Now he has. Whether larger grocery chains and food manufacturers join the Non-GM Beet Sugar Registry remains to be seen. But if you’re interested in avoiding bioengineered sweetners, here’s a list of companies who support the Non-GM Registry.

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