Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A "sweet" topic

I'm back. It's been a while! Winter got busy and life just felt kind of....icky. With the political climate and a number of different issues I feel strongly about, I just couldn't find a way to put my words on "paper" and feel comfortable with how it came across. I was just finding it harder than usual to put something into words.

But this topic, I just couldn't quite let go. We have seen numerous stories the past couple years of companies that have caved to "consumer demand" for things like meat that has never been treated with antibiotics, GMO free ingredients and a host of other buzz issues all while ignoring realities in food production and plain old science.

The latest to give in to the pressure is Hershey's. It was disappointing to read about, that's for sure. The company has said they will no longer use sugar that is derived from sugar beets - which most of the sugar beets produced in the US are from plants that have been genetically modified to make them resistant to glyphosate. A company spokesperson was quoted saying it will change nothing about their label. Sugar will still read just sugar on the ingredient list. So why the uproar? While some may feel some sort of moral victory over this, I assure you that there are no winners in this situation.

No matter what people demand or the decision Hershey's has made, the fact remains that sugar is sugar. Whether is comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, by the time it gets to sucrose form, the product from the two sources are indistinguishable from each other. Dr. Kevin Folta lays it out nicely in this article.  So while people are up in arms about the use of glyphosate on sugar beets, they seem to be forgetting the larger environmental impact of raising sugar cane. Which will also be more costly to produce. Some don't quite seem to understand how far technology and research have brought us in terms of crop protection. Glyphosate is monumentally safer for our environment and health versus the chemicals we had 50 years ago. And those chemicals were not as effective and had to be applied more often and in larger quantities many times. So while it is important to always be responsible about how we apply any sort of product to our fields, our options now are better than those we had years ago. If farmers are forced to give up the GM (genetically modified) sugar beets, this is the situation they will be facing. Putting themselves and our environment at greater risk.
Graphic taken from Genetic Literacy Project
I don't know if this was the intention these people had - when groups like GMO Inside decide they will bombard these companies demanding change that suits their agenda. I am, and will always be, a proponent for food choices. As I have stated before, there is room for a broad spectrum of production methods in our food system. But once a group decides to push their agenda to hurt and affect other producers, that is where the line should be drawn.

What really tipped me over the edge about this issue was when I read this from the Star Tribune and a post from a friend about this very topic. We live in Minnesota. We raise our family here. So something that impacts a $5 Billion (yes, billion with a B) industry for our state (the article does say for MN and ND combined) is something that should draw our attention. So while these activists are falling on their swords about sugar that comes from a GM sugar beet, they are potentially putting a big portion of our economic activity and countless farms, families and jobs at risk. I'm not remotely ok with this. And it should be alarming to anyone in our state - as Minnesota is the largest producer of sugar beets in the country. And anyone else who cares about agriculture.

My assumption that someone who worries about this topic is a pretty food secure person. They don't worry about where their next meal is coming from. So if we are going to take up arms with these companies over something that truly matters - that will truly make a difference for people - let's maybe tackle getting the food from these companies to the millions of adults and children that go to bed hungry at night cause they can't afford something to eat. People who don't know where their next meal will come from probably aren't going to raise a stink about where any sugar that may be in it came from. Or any other ingredient that may happen to come from a GM modified plant.

If we are going to force companies to make changes that could eventually affect the price of our food and our environment, the very least we can do it make sure that those changes are driven by sound scientific evidence. Hershey's is giving in to a vocal minority who use fear and misinformation. And it needs to stop now before this snowballs even further into our food supply.

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