In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that sugar and other highly refined products would not be subject to a mandatory genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling law, which caused a sigh of relief among those in the sugarbeet industry.
“Because the beet is so heavily processed to be turned into pure sucrose, there’s no protein left,” said Rebecca Larson, Western Sugar Cooperative vice president, chief scientist and governmental affairs during a telephone interview Monday. “The product itself is not genetically modified, the GMO is just used to farm more efficiently.”
While other row crops have had genetically modified variants for quite sometime, the adoption of GMO sugarbeets, which are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (known commercially as RoundUp), has been relatively recent. The first commercially available GMO seeds were introduced in 2007, however did not reach wide deployment until 2008.
“It was the fastest adoption of any GMO technology release,” Larson said. Today, it is a market standard. Beyond helping farmers reduce input costs, GMO sugarbeets provide many environmental benefits.
“The farmer is saving money, but they’re also able to adopt conservation tillage practices that weren’t possible prior to RoundUp Ready technology,” she said. “Our farmers have cut their water usage by a minimum of a third. They cut their fuel usage in half. They’ve driven yields up about 33 percent, so the land use efficiency is greater. And the environment impact is that we’re using safer and fewer pesticides for weed management.”
Larson said that there’s been a shift in the industry in terms of people seeking organic or conventional products. Instead, the focus has become centered on the environmental impacts and sustainability, regardless of the technology that’s employed in the field.
Unfortunately, farmers are a very small percentage of the population, and far too often their voices are drowned out in the din of social media, the majority of which is negative toward GMOs.
Read the full report by Spike Jordan, published on Farm and Ranch