US consumer group warns against GM sugar beets

By Annie Launois

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sugar beet, Sugar, United states

Citizens for Health, a US consumer advocacy group, has launched an
online campaign to warn consumers about the dangers of genetically
engineered (GE) sugar beets in food products.

Citizens for Health's email campaign urges consumers to send their concerns about the use of GE sugar beets to sugar companies. The campaign is particularly aimed at several large firms, including Hershey's, M&M Mars, and American Crystal Sugar. According to Citizens for Health, these companies in 2001 pledged not to use sugar from genetically engineered sugar beets in their products. However, with Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beet now allegedly ready for planting, these companies have not been renewed, said the advocacy group. The group fears that the use of sugar beet seeds that have built-in resistance to the Monsanto's Roundup herbicide could create new and unpredictable health and environmental risks. American Crystal Sugar confirmed that there had been no planting of GE sugar beet seeds yet. However, the company was unable to comment further prior to publication. Mars and Hershey's did not respond to calls for comment. Sugar beets ​ Sugar beets are grown on about 5 665 million square metres (1.4 million acres) by about 12,000 farmers in the United States, mainly in northern states from Oregon to Michigan, according to figures published in Capital Press Agriculture Weekly. Although a minor crop compared with corn and soybeans, sugar beets account for about half the US sugar supply, with the rest coming from sugar cane. According to Citizens for Health, as these sugars are found in hundreds of everyday food products, such as candies, cereals, and cakes, "the infiltration of GE sugar beets could represent a significant alteration of our food supply​". Consumer calls ​ The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), an American public interest organisation campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability has also urged consumers to take action against GM sugar beets on its website. The association draws consumers' attention to the fact that they would not be able to make an informed decision when buying foods containing sugar made from biotech beets as these foods would not have to be labelled as genetically modified products in the US. However, US food companies that export to European countries would have to label them as containing genetically engineered ingredients (EU Regulation 1829/2003 on genetically modified food and feed). Lawsuits ​ In the same context, farmers, food safety advocates, and conservation groups filed a suit in the federal court on 23 January 2008 in San Francisco, challenging the deregulation of "Roundup Ready" sugar beets by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). As a "regulated article"​, Roundup Ready sugar beets could not be introduced into the environment without a permit from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service before 2005. In March 2005, USDA announced that H7-1 was no longer to be considered a regulated article and deregulation "would not present a risk of plant pest introduction or dissemination​". The plaintiffs in the 2008 suit, Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Seeds, seek to obtain a thorough assessment of the environmental, health, and associated economic impacts of the deregulation. Europe​ In Europe, a request for placing products produced from sugar beet H7-1 on the market was submitted by KWS SAAT AG, a German plant breeding company and Monsanto Europe to the authorities of The United Kingdom on 12 November 2004. On 20 December 2006, the European Food Safety Authority gave a favourable opinion and concluded that "it is unlikely that the placing on the market of the products produced from sugar beet H7-1 as described in the application will have any adverse effects on human or animal health or the environment in the context of their intended uses.​" The placing in the EU of foods, food ingredients and feeds produced from sugar beet H7-1 was approved by a decision of the EU commission on 24 October 2007 for the next 10 years. Their use for cultivation in Europe is still undergoing completeness checks by EFSA.

Related topics: Commodities, Cocoa & Sugar

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