The scariest thing next Halloween might not be the monsters, zombies or witches trolling our streets — it might be the candy. Those colorful, tin-foil-wrapped Hershey’s kisses and dark chocolate pumpkins could contain sugar extracted and processed from the roots of genetically modified sugar beets.

Sugar in Halloween candy comes from several sources, including sugar beets. But this year, farmers are planting Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready GM sugar beets for sale to food producers for the first time. This beet is genetically engineered to survive multiple, direct applications of the weed killer, Roundup, and its active ingredient, glyphosate. What’s particularly appalling about the approval of this GM sugar beet is that at the time of its approval, Monsanto convinced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to increase the glyphosate residues allowed on sugar beetroots by an astounding 5,000 percent. This opens up the possibility for excessive pesticide spraying on GM sugar beets. Now that’s scary news for our precious ghosts and goblins!

So how would you know if the treats you bought contained GM sugar? The short answer: You wouldn’t. That’s because sugar from GM beets like all other GM foods would not be labeled.

One of the most masterful tricks that the biotech industry has pulled off for more than a decade is keeping consumers in the dark about GM foods. Despite widespread consumer demand for labeling, the biotech industry has stubbornly refused to label its GM products. Why? Because if consumers could make informed choices about foods that contain GM ingredients, chances are they would not buy them. Poll after poll has confirmed consumer distaste for GM foods, particularly given the absence of human health studies that prove GM foods are safe for human consumption. Yet, the biotech industry remains arrogant in its refusal to give consumers the labels that they demand and deserve.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Food producers, like consumers, have also been held hostage by the biotech industry, which has steadfastly denied them the right to know if the food they purchase has been grown from GM seeds. GM beet sugar, which could be released into the food supply as early as 2009, will be combined with non-GM sugar and sold as "sugar," with no indication that some of it has come from GM beets. Manufacturers of candy, cereal, granola bars, baby food, breads — anything that contains sugar — would be hard-pressed to avoid using sugar derived from GM beet sugar once it’s introduced into the market. This "no label" policy eliminates food producers’ right to know, choose, or refuse to use non-GM sugar in its products. It also keeps consumers in the dark.

The biotech industry’s refusal to label is bolstered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administrations’ "no labeling/no testing policy." Did you know that the FDA admitted under oath that it has not made any scientific determination whatsoever about the safety of GM foods, when questioned in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety in 1998? Ten years later, the Agency still has done nothing to address outstanding food safety concerns. In fact, FDA took no substantive action to study the food safety risks of GM food even after it concluded that the GM supplement, L-tryptophan, was the possible cause of 37 deaths and 1,500 disabling illnesses from a rare condition known as eosinophilia myalgia syndrome. And, despite warnings by its own scientific advisors that new and unknown allergens and toxins synthesized during the GM process could pose significant health risks, FDA has chosen to remain silent on the entire food safety question. It’s scary to think that this is the same government agency that is charged with safeguarding our nation’s food supply!

If this isn’t enough to make you want to give up Halloween candy, consider the issue of crop contamination. Beets are wind-pollinated, which means that plants from one field routinely pollinate beets in other fields up to several miles away. GM contamination from cross- pollination would be unavoidable and that could put related vegetable varieties at risk such as green and red chard and golden and red table beets. Non-GM and organic farmers across the Midwest and western U.S., where GM sugar beets, seeds, and related varieties are grown, could be forced out of business due to domestic and oversees market rejection of GM contaminated crops. And, consumers wanting to eat non-GM and organic varieties of beets and chard would find these flavorful and nutritious vegetables in short supply.

Next Halloween, you can avoid this impending nightmare by buying candy labeled "made with sugar cane," "cane juice" or "certified organic." But, the real trick to avoiding GM candy corn, M&Ms, and other sugary treats next season is to write to your favorite candy companies and demand that they produce GM-free candy all year round. And, if they refuse to do so, don’t buy their products. Follow-up your action with a letter stating that you will not be tricked into buying unlabeled, GM foods, and that’s why you are no longer their customer.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.