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Q. Dear Umbra,
I feed hummingbirds a syrup made of 1 cup sugar and 4 cups water. I recently read an article about GMO sugar beets in the U.S. And that beet sugar is sold as granulated sugar and not labeled to indicate beet as opposed to cane sugar. So my question is, what effect will GMO beet sugar, if I unknowingly bought and used it for my hummer syrup, have on the birds?
A. Dearest Susan,
I love that your first thought upon learning that sugar is not labeled transparently is for the birds. That is, for lack of a better word, sweet.
As we began chronicling in the pages of Ye Olde Grist Herald back in 2007, genetically modified sugar beets have been on a stealth march into your pantry (and your hummingbird feeder) for a few years now. Sugar beets themselves, the non-GMO kind, are nothing new: They actually make up more than half the sugar production in this country, with sugar cane comprising the rest. (That’s half the sugar. I’m not talking high-fructose corn syrup, sucralose, verbose, comatose, or any of those other sweeteners.)
Unless your box of sugar says “cane sugar,” it almost certainly contains sugar beets. And since we don’t label genetically modified ingredients in this country (yet), chances are even better it contains GM sugar beets, which now make up at least 95 percent of the country’s sugar-beet crop.