Genetic engineering, or genetic modification, is the process of manipulating or altering an organism's genome, using enhanced DNA technology. Genetic modification involves the introduction of foreign DNA, into the organism, whether it be a plant, fruit or animal. Today, many fruit, vegetable and animal varieties have already been genetically modified. The list goes on with each harvest season, with crops like potato, corn, sunflower, wheat, barley, sorghum, soybean and sugar beet among the most commonly altered. Here's a look at the strange story of GM sugar beets.
Mass Consumption Of GM Sugar Beets
Sugar beet is one of the most common genetically modified crops today. Sugar beet is a plant that contains high levels of sucrose, and it is commercially grown for sugar production today. Among the world's largest sugar beet producers include the United States, European Union and Ukraine.
The US alone produces as much as 30 percent of global sugar beet production, and sugar beet is planted on more than a million hectares of farm land. While previous methods for harvesting sugar beet were done manually by farm hands, sugar beet harvesting today is done in a more precise mechanical manner. Root beaters use a series of blades to chop the leaf and crown and separate it from the root. Afterwards, a beet harvester plucks the root, removes excess soil, and dumps the beets into trucks, for processing in a factory.
Among the companies that produce genetically-altered sugar beet includes Monsanto. The GE sugar beets that Monsanto develops is designed to tolerate repeated applications of the weed killer Roundup or glyphosphate. GM sugar beet though can pose irreparable damage to the environment and consumers, warns consumer interest groups. GE sugar beet can also easily cross-pollinate with natural sugar beets, and ruin their natural DNA make-up.
In 2008, consumer interest groups sued the US Department of Agriculture for allowing Monsanto to mass-produce GE sugar beet, without first complying with the National Environmental Policy Act's requirement of getting an Environmental Impact Statement. The federal court banned GE sugar beet on August 13, 2010, until the USDA made a thorough study of its impact on the environment.
Surprisingly, three weeks after the ruling, the USDA again issued permits to seed growers to plant the GE sugar beet variety. This angered consumer groups, and they once again sued the agriculture department over the ruling. The USDA soon granted the protester's motion for a preliminary injunction, and the GE sugar beet seed crop was again ordered destroyed.
Health And Safety Concerns About Genetic Engineering In Agriculture
Genetic engineering in agriculture is moving a notch higher these days, as more and more bio-tech companies are racing to corner patents and rights to the crops and livestock they modify. Genetically engineered foods are generally controlled by only a handful of multinational corporations, and through skillful lobbying with the US Agriculture department, as well as Congress and the White House, they have managed to gain a strong foothold in the agriculture sector.
In Europe, Japan and other countries, few, or none, of the GMO products are found in groceries and supermarkets, because these countries have strict laws on food labeling. The US GMO industry though strongly disagrees with labeling GMO fruits and vegetables, because they know only a few will buy them, hence their profits will surely drop. At present, the labeling laws in the US are only imposed on GMO ingredients in food items. As a result of this, a large segment of US consumers have no idea if there are any genetically modified ingredients in the grocery products they buy.