Sugar Beets

Beta vulgaris
AMARANTHACEAE, The Amaranth family or CHENOPODIACEAE, The Goosefoot family

What do we know about the sugar we eat every day?

The majority of sugar produced is from sugar cane, the rest, roughly 30 – 40%, is from sugar beets. Sugar cane is tropical, so in the US if you were looking for a domestic, regional or local source of pure sugar, beets would be it. (And we could certainly start talking about sweeteners such as honey, agave, fruit juice, maple sugar/syrup and more. All these are way more exciting to taste buds if one reduces their overall sugar intake, something I have yet to try.)

I did not know, until I heard this OPB story today that 95% of sugar beets grown this year were genetically modified to be able to withstand being sprayed with herbicide. ‘Round-up Ready’ crops are produced by Monsanto corporation (the folks who brought us Agent Orange), which also makes the pesticide that they sell to go along with the GMO seed. Read about Monsanto’s close government ties at the Organic Consumers Association site (sidebar at lower right of page).

GMO beets were not approved until spring of 2008, and the current lawsuits by the Center for Food Safety argue that insufficient environmental studies were done before releasing this genetically modified organism (and every other GMO crop). Sugar beets can cross-pollinate with red beets, swiss chard and other closely related crops, many of which are grown organically in the Willamette Valley. Genetic pollution could ruin those crops, as well as cause unforeseen problems in agriculture, health and in ecosystems.

The recent rulings didn’t require the GMO crop to be pulled up, but future rulings could have a positive impact on the issue. In the meantime, precautionary principle prevails in our household, and organic sugar (and alternatives) are added to the list.

About Mulysa

I love my work as a landscape designer and artist. When I'm not planning homesteads or working in the studio, you'll find me hiking, photographing, gardening, baking, cooking vegetarian meals with friends, reading and working on sustainability issues...with my baby on my hip in Portland, Oregon.
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One Response to Sugar Beets

  1. Mulysa says:

    If you want to support a company that is working to safeguard genetic diversity, check out Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Missouri. Amazing catalog full of information and inspiration. I’ve used their seeds for years and had great luck.

    I also LOVE Bountiful Gardens in California.

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