gmoOne cube or two? Jill Richardson made a good catch on the GMO crop front the other day. She dug up an article from a Boulder, CO newspaper that detailed the debate over local sugarbeet farmers’ request to plant GM seeds within the city limits. The farmers claim that without GM sugar beets, they’ll be unable to meet their Western Sugar Cooperative quota. But that’s not the reason I’m telling you all this (nor is it for the useful fact that sugarbeets have been a staple crop in Boulder for a century). I’m telling you all this because the article contained this revelation:

Since it was approved a year ago, more than 90 percent of the nation’s sugarbeet crop has been converted to Roundup Ready, according to a Boulder County staff report.

“Roundup Ready,” of course, refers to Monsanto’s group of genetically engineered corn, soy, canola, cotton and now sugarbeet seeds that can withstand the direct application of the potent pesticide glyphosate (aka Roundup). In the course of a year, Monsanto’s Frankensugar has taken over the national sugarbeet crop. Yeesh.

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As Jill observes, something like half of the refined sugar available in the US comes from sugar beets. That, of course, means that no small amount of the sugar that you cook with or put in your coffee is genetically modified — and suggests that pretty much 100% of conventional processed foods now contain GMOs. Whatever our expectation of processed foods, few of us, I think, would have considered plain, old table sugar a potential GMO product. I know I found this unsettling.

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This wouldn’t be quite the same problem, of course, in Europe, which has mandatory GMO labeling laws. You wouldn’t need crack bloggers digging around in local Boulder, CO newspapers to learn the truth. It’s enough to make you think that the big food companies just don’t want you to know. Nah. I must just be getting paranoid. Anyway, I think I’ll take up Jill’s suggestion and stick to organic sugar. For better or for worse, the organic label, with its restrictions on the use of GMO ingredients, is the closest we’ve got to GMO-labeling in this country.

UPDATE: Stephanie Ogburn in comments below flagged another sugarbeet battle going on in Oregon. Turns out an organic farmer found viable GMO sugarbeet roots in a commercial soil mix. His fear is that it could contanimate huge swathes of land with Roundup Ready sugarbeets when the roots sprout and then flower. The farmer involved also has a “lawsuit, now before a federal judge in California [that] contends that USDA officials violated federal law when they deregulated the genetically modified sugarbeets in 2005 and asks for an injunction to halt their planting, sale or distribution.” I doubt the suit will succeed but one can only hope. This kind of unpredictable cross-contamination does make you feel like Monsanto has no real understanding of exactly what they’ve unleashed on us.