USDA's New Rule For GMO Labeling A Boon For Sugar Beet Farmers

Dec 21, 2018

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined that only foods containing detectable genetic material should be considered as bioengineered or genetically modified (GMO).

The USDA was tasked with deciding if refined products, like soybean oil and corn sweeteners, should be considered a GMO food. It said they are not, which is a victory for sugar beet farmers.

The beets themselves are bioengineered, but once refined into sugar, there is no longer any traces of GMO. The sugar molecules look no different than sugar made from non-GMO crops, like sugar cane. Sugar beet sugar is used to make everything from candy to bread, and industry leaders worried a GMO label would discourage consumers from purchasing these products.

There are more than 10,000 sugar beet farmers in states like Colorado and Nebraska. Scott Herndon with the American Sugar Beet Growers Association said the USDA decision is a victory for every farmer who grows a bioengineered crop.

“The United States is the global leader in developing growing biotech crops and so I think this sets a clear standard for the rest of the world to look at,” he said.

But Wenonah Hauter with the nonprofit group Food and Water Watch said in a statement that the rule is deceptive.

"Consumers are more interested in ever in knowing how their food was produced, but this rule is a big step backwards from common sense, transparent GMO labeling measures,” she said.

The USDA rule will also allow producers to disclose GMO foods using a digital code that can only be read with a smartphone. Hauter called it a “loophole” and does not take into account people who so not own a smartphone.   

By law, all GMO foods must be labeled for consumers by 2020.

Follow Esther on Twitter: @estherhonig