The recent report that Hershey Co. will stop buying beet sugar ("Hershey says 'bye' to beet sugar," Dec. 28) because it comes from genetically modified (GM) seeds was disappointing, because the decision had nothing to do with the safety of beet sugar produced by farmers here in Minnesota and North Dakota. Instead, it has everything to do with consumer misperceptions that genetically modified foods are somehow unsafe.
The truth is this: There is no difference between beet and cane sugar. This is because all DNA and genes in both types of sugar are removed during processing, leaving one thing only — pure sugar.
Indeed, there is ample evidence demonstrating that GM foods are safe, and even Hershey points to the many international scientific groups that have examined the health and environmental safety of plant biotechnology and that are in full agreement that GM foods are safe for human consumption.
For centuries, people have improved agricultural crops through the controlled pollination of plants, which is known as selective breeding or hybridization. Plant biotechnology is simply an extension of plant breeding that helps develop crops with more specific traits to help farmers manage the many challenges we face, such as weed control, insect protection and disease resistance.
Because sugar is an important ingredient in our food supply, it is critical that we develop ways to ensure a uniform source of sugar for consumers, while at the same time conserving our natural resources. This is something we think consumers, like farmers, are also very concerned about — maintaining a reliable, abundant food supply to feed our burgeoning world population, while reducing our environmental footprint wherever possible.
In the case of sugar beets, farmers have long sought a more sustainable way to manage weeds. The sugar beet seeds we use now help us control weeds in a much more environmentally conscious way, in addition to providing at least 25 identifiable environmental benefits, including lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduced soil erosion, less soil compaction and increased water conservation.
Sugar beet growers, processors and our food-company customers understood that there is no difference between beet sugar and cane sugar before we began using our current sugar beet seeds. They understood that using a GM seed was the sure way to continue providing the highest quality and safest products for our customers at reasonable prices.
According to the Sugar Industry Biotech Council, a collaborative group representing both beet and cane sugar, regulatory agencies from around the world have reviewed our sugar beets and confirmed that the sugar beets themselves, and the end products produced, are the same as the food and feed products derived from other comparably grown sugar beets. Examples include: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, consultation on Roundup Ready sugar beets; Health Canada; European Food Safety Authority, opinion of the scientific panel on genetically modified organisms; the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
At the molecular level, sugar from our current sugar beets is identical to sugar from other comparably grown sugar beets and sugar cane. Independent scientific analyses conducted by internationally recognized laboratories confirm this fact.
As Midwest farmers, we are not only working to create a sustainable livelihood for our families and community. We farm because we care about providing a consistent food supply to feed the world, and we are committed to doing so in a way that has least impact on the environment.
It is my hope that consumers review all of the information available so they fully understand how biotechnology is helping both people and the environment.
Kyle Petersen farms near Murdock, Minn., and is chairman of the board of the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative.