Western Sugar Cooperative is pro GMO technology because:
- GMOs make farming more sustainable
- GMOs allow our farmers to use fewer pesticides
- GMOs make every acre more productive
- Even though we grow GMO sugar beets, the sugar we sell is GMO-free
WHAT IS GENETIC MODIFICATION (Enhancement)
Genetic modification is a biotechnological approach for introducing changes in gene expression within an organism. This includes introduction of a new gene or several genes from another organism or overexpression/inhibition of a gene already contained within the organism.
WHY WE SUPPORT GMO TECHNOLOGY
GMOs are key to sustainability
Farmers are by nature environmentalists. The decisions made every day are focused on doing right by the land to keep it healthy and productive. Adoption of genetic engineering by the sugar beet industry was the fastest of any commodity, over 95% in under two years. The farmers chose the technology because of the overwhelming benefit it affords them and their farms. The sugar beet industry as a whole has documented over 25 environmental benefits associated with the use of genetically engineered sugar beets. These findings were submitted in a formal white paper to the National Academy of Sciences in September, 2015 and include:
- Fewer herbicides applied (1 mode of action versus complex tank mixes of chemistries)
- Lower level of herbicides used (80% less chemical applied annually)
- Less toxic herbicides used (today’s chemistry rapidly biogrades in the environment and is so safe it is sold at grocery stores for home use)
- Fewer applications (average of two applications annually, versus 5 or more)
- Salt-based herbicide rapidly breaks down in the environment without ill side effects
- Worker safety standards vastly improved with safer chemicals and elimination of hand labor
- Plants are healthier with less disease incidence, requiring fewer pesticide applications
- Yields are improved, meaning more sugar from fewer acres
- Chemicals no longer unnecessarily stress sugar beet growth
- Less weed competition for nutrients, water and sunlight
- Long term weed banks greatly reduced
- Ability to use conservation tillage, so less root damage/creation of wounds for pathogen entry
- Soil health is promoted with conservation tillage; less wind and water erosion
- Fewer weeds in the field means fewer weed seeds traveling field to field on equipment and in irrigation water
- Better soil health with reduced compaction
- Better water retention in less compacted soils
- Less water evaporation when not disturbing soil using conservation tillage
- The healthier plants are using more of the available nutrients so less run off into the environment
- Conservation tillage allows for better carbon sequestration and reduced carbon dioxide emissions
- Fewer trips are needed across a field, so fewer fossil fuels are burned
- Healthier plants convert more carbon dioxide into oxygen
- Healthier beets store better which means sugar extraction is more efficient and there is less respiration in the pile
Genetic engineering helps our farmers produce the same amount of sugar on one third the acres and reduce carbon emissions by 80%. Furthermore, our farmers use 37% less water, 47% less fuel, 33% less fertilizer and 80% less herbicide thanks to genetic engineering. Even with increased seed costs, our farmers are more profitable using genetically engineered sugar beets which helps them stay viable in the face of rising input costs and low commodity prices.
GMOs are safe
There is overwhelming scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs. Scientific consensus is a collective judgment based on the quality and quantity of evidence on a subject. It is not reached lightly or quickly. It slowly evolves over time and is the outcome of debate between thousands of scientists upon review of thousands of structured, peer-reviewed studies. These are the experts, making expert decisions based on expert experience and training.
Genetically engineered crops are the only crops requiring testing prior to introduction into the market. Each product is extensively evaluated for an average of over 13 years to ensure no negative impact on health, safety or nutrition associated with the plant or its byproducts. There are over 2,500 plant varieties on the market today made in a lab through mutagenesis, introducing changes to DNA never seen in nature and not subject to a single test prior to commercialization. Traditional breeding techniques, like selection and cross-species hybridization, also result in untold numbers of changes to the plant genome but are freely released to the public without testing. Not a single documented case of health or safety related to genetic engineering exists. The threat to human health of genes introduced through genetic engineering versus any other technique is the same: none.
Opponents to GMO technology like to claim it is unnatural, however many, documented examples of how genetic exchange between species happens naturally all the time exist. Humans even carry over 145 genes picked up from different species naturally since the dawn of man: we are GMOs. Furthermore, no food we eat today is as how nature made it. Man has been intervening since the beginning of time to force mutation into plants to make them more palatable, less seedy and higher yielding. Genetic engineering is equally safe as any other breeding technique and based on the tight regulation, the final product released to the public is arguably safer and far less likely to contain unintended byproducts. This technology is necessary to help us deal with increasingly difficult challenges of farming in the face of climate change and an ever increasing global population. It allows for rapid, critical changes to plants without adding unwanted negative attributes.
Pesticides used in conjunction with GMOs are the safest on the market
Sugar beet producers are using 80% fewer agrichemicals since the adoption of GMO technology in 2008. The chemical they are using is also safer (e.g. less toxic) and rapidly biodegrades in the environment without ill side effects. Today, our growers only apply approximately 1 soda can’s worth of chemical to an area of the size of a football field once to three times per season. The chemicals applied today cause no stress to the beet as old herbicides did making the beets naturally healthier, requiring fewer additional pesticide applications. Furthermore GMO technology enables our growers to use conservation tillage. Not disturbing the soil also means not disrupting the roots of the beets. The undisturbed roots keep the plant less prone to infection, again curbing overall pesticide dependency.
Glyphosate, used in conjunction with GMO sugar beets, was clasified “probably carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC is one of four research arms of the World Health Organization (WHO). The IARC findings don’t align with the other 3 WHO research organizations, therefore the WHO disagrees with IARC’s findings. They are not alone. All the major global health and safety organizations across Europe, Africa, North America and South America disagree with the IARC assessment. Even IARC admits their conclusion was made with “little evidence for a link to cancer in humans”. IARC makes their assessments without consideration of exposure rate or duration. Using IARC’s own rating system, glyphosate is equally as likely to cause cancer as aloe vera, your cell phone, or a steak and is less carcinogenic than your morning cup of coffee, exposure to sunlight, or a strip of bacon. The longest term study of American farmers (those with the highest exposure risk to agrichemicals) failed to find any link between glyphosate exposure and cancer. Then why has this IARC finding gotten so much traction? Arguments against GMO safety are weakly supported so anti-GMO organizations are now attacking the technology through the associated chemistries. Bottom line: glyphosate is the safest and most effective herbicide ever discovered by man.
A team of University of California-Berkley scientists found 99.99% of all the pesticides consumed in our diets are produced naturally by the plant itself. Therefore, the remaining 0.01% comes from residues of products applied to the plant during production. Both organic and conventional farmers use a wide array of pesticides during the growing season, neither one of which poses any health risk to the consumer. The American Medical Association suggests eating more fruits and vegetables every day, regardless of production practice. That is based on the fact the health benefit from eating those foods far outweighs the negligible risk associated with consuming pesticide residue; the concentration of which is far too low to inflict harm.
The product you buy hasn’t changed; sugar is still GMO free.
The overwhelming benefits of using biotechnology on the farm are outlined above. Even though our growers adopted GM technology to better the health and sustainability of their operations, the sugar sold to the consumer hasn’t changed. Sugar is still GMO free. Every sugar beet processing factory in North America has been independently tested by Eurofins and the sugar contains no trace of the GM trait: DNA or protein. Those components are naturally chewed up during the refining process. Even though there is no scientific basis to fear consumption of products derived from GMO plants, those who are still uncertain need not avoid sugar, which is and always has been GMO-free.
WHY WE ARE AGAINST GMO MANDATORY LABELING
GMOs are not materially different from their conventional counterparts: GMOs are subject to extensive testing proving they are safe before commercial use. Adding a special label to food packaging suggests there is something inherently different or bad about the ingredient which may unduly scare consumers away from purchasing these products. Failure to buy these products will put American farms at risk since they can’t afford to produce non-GMO crops.
Mandatory labeling will drive up costs for the consumer: over 47 million Americans are living in food insecure households. Adding extra labeling criteria will drive up annual food costs by $500, a cost many families cannot afford to incur.
Labels can, have and will be misused for marketing purposes: a prominent, mandatory label will have high impact on the customer. Unfortunately, segments of the industry could misuse that label as a marketing tool to drive sales. There is substantial documented evidence the organic industry used intentionally deceptive marketing practices to associate the USDA certified organic seal with increased product health, safety and nutrition. Scientific data overwhelmingly shows no difference between conventionally and organically raised foods for any of those factors. Based on that data, the organic industry was specifically instructed to not use the label in this fashion by the US government, but abuse is rampant. Today, the major source of funding for the GMO labeling movement comes from the organic industry, which is already associating GMOs with safety concerns with no foundation in science.
Most Americans don’t want GMO labeling on food: a majority of Americans only say they want GMO labels when specifically prompted by “push polls” (polls which ask “would you like to see GMO labeled?”). Only 7% of respondents specifically mention wanting a GMO label when asked what they feel is currently missing from the mandated food labeling standards. That means a majority of Americans really don’t think about GMOs, but rather think only about a safe, affordable and plentiful food supply.
Mandatory labeling would require foods which contain no GMOs be labeled: if mandatory labeling is to help inform the consumer (and allow them to not consume GMOs if they don’t want to) a mandate on labeling anything derived from a GMO plant does not suffice. Many products, such as the sugar our farmers produce, do not contain any trace of the GM trait at the point of sale. If it is chemically indistinguishable from sugar derived from conventional sugar beets or cane grown conventionally or organically why should labeling any products being made from them differ?
Many products we eat today have their DNA changed in a lab, but only genetically engineered plants are being focused on for labeling: There are over 2,500 registered plant varieties used around the world which have been made in a lab. Their DNA has been changed in ways never seen before in nature by soaking seeds in chemical mutagenizing agents, or bombarding the seeds with radiation. These products never need to be tested before commercialization to see if that random lab-induced genetic mutation promote new toxins or allergens in the plant. GMOs are tested for over 13 years prior to commercialization and have very controlled and documented genetic alterations. Why is labeling GMOs higher priority than labeling mutants? Those lab-based manmade products are not only free from the labeling controversy, but are also able to be labeled as natural and organic.