GMO Backlash Threatens Sugar Beet Farmers, Growers Scramble to Regain Loyalty

GMO Backlash Threatens Sugar Beet Farmers, Growers Scramble to Regain Loyalty

Sugar beet farmers, who often use seeds created by Monsanto, are seeing their products lose market share, due in large part to consumer demand for non-GMO foods. According to Reuters, beet growers’ share of the U.S. sugar market slipped to less than 41 percent in the last fiscal year—the lowest on record. This has spurred growers to lobby, both in Washington and via a social media campaign, to persuade the public that GMO seeds are safe.

The decline in sugar beet usage by U.S. food producers is directly related to the widespread decision amongst farmers to switch to cheaper GMO seeds over the past seven years. Today, this choice has proven to be fiscally misguided, as increased information about the dangers of GMOs have left consumers—and food companies—looking elsewhere for sugar.

The response to demands for non-GMO foods from food manufacturers has been astounding: Hershey Co. announced it will stop using beet sugar in Kisses and Milk Chocolate bars by the end of the year. General Mills, while refusing to recognize the dangers of GMOs, has conceded to not only label non-GMO products, but place them alongside the company’s GMO counterparts.

The backlash against sugar beet-derived sugar likely stems from the food sector’s increased transparency about GMOs. Communication against GMOs from groups like the American Academy of Environmental Medicine and the Campaign for Healthier Eating in America, backed by studies conducted by the Institute for Science in Society and Reproductive Toxicology, among others, have made these products less desirable to consumers. In April, Vermont became the first state to pass a law requiring GMO products be labeled, which is due to come into effect next July.

Until recently, beets have accounted for over half of sugar production in the U.S. Many companies choosing to forego beet sugar are opting to import foreign sugarcane for sweetening purposes instead, as the U.S.’s 3.6 billion ton production is not sufficient. As a point of comparison, the U.S. produces an average of 9.2 million tons of corn for high-fructose corn syrup every year.

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Sugar beet image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.