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Food companies pledge to avoid GM beet sugar

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 17-Feb-2009

Over 70 companies have vowed not to use or sell genetically modified beet sugar by signing a registry set up by food safety, environmental and corporate watchdog organizations on Saturday.

The first GM sugar beet crops – which were Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets – were harvested in the fall, but signatories of the Non-Genetically Modified (GM) Beet Sugar Registry have said they are worried about a lack of knowledge about the long-term health and environmental impacts of GM beet sugar. The Center for Food Safety (CFS) added that one of the reasons for creating the registry is to give consumers a choice about whether they eat foods containing GM sugar in the absence of mandatory labeling for GM foods.

Jeffrey Smith, director of the Institute for Responsible Technology – one of a dozen sponsors of the registry – said: “We need to avoid the all-too-common situation of finding out a product is harmful after it has been approved and widely distributed. Requiring that GM foods be labeled is the only protection consumers have if they want to avoid eating GM foods.”

CFS asserted that the US Environmental Protection Agency increased allowable levels of herbicide residue on GM sugar beet roots “at the request of Monsanto.”

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets are modified so that the crop is resistant to the company’s Roundup-brand herbicide, allowing farmers to quickly kill weeds without killing the crop.

No one from Monsanto was available to comment prior to publication.

Contamination concerns

CFS has also said that the recent mercury contamination of high fructose corn syrup has made companies particularly nervous about the introduction of unlabeled GM beet sugar to the US food supply.

It said: “The registry shows the food industry’s increasing apprehension about the government’s ability to adequately regulate food production technologies.”

Tom Stearns, president of High Mowing Organic Seeds, which has also sponsored the registry, expressed concern that GM sugar beets would cross-pollinate with related crops such as chard and table beets, meaning that the issue could affect other foods and food ingredients.

“Overseas markets have already rejected other GM products, so the economic future of many of our nation’s farmers is being needlessly risked,” he said.

The registry has been signed by 73 grocery chains and food producers so far, documenting a pledge to “seek wherever possible to avoid using GM beet sugar in our products” and urging the sugar beet industry to avoid using GM beets.

A full list of companies that have signed the registry is available here .

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