FAITH-BASED INVESTORS TARGET RR SUGAR BEETS

SOURCE: Capital Press, USA
AUTHOR: Dave Wilkins
URL: http://www.capitalpress.info/formlayout.asp?Formcall=30&SectionID=67&Sub...
DATE: 21.03.2008
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A group of religious investors has called on U.S. food companies to shun sugar from Roundup Ready sugar beets.

".Our message is simple: Don't mess with sugar" Leslie Lowe, director of energy and environmental programs for the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, said during a call-in news conference March 4.

The ICCR has launched a website, www.DontPlantGMOBeets.org, that includes a sample letter for consumers to send to food manufacturers.

The web-based campaign has targeted 63 different restaurant, food, beverage and candy companies. The list includes such well-known brands as Campbell Soup, Kraft, Sara Lee, PepsiCo, Wendy's and McDonald's.

".These companies face major potential backlash if they don't act now to stop the use of genetically modified sugar from sugar beets" Lowe said.

The ICCR is a coalition of nearly 300 faith-based institutional investors representing more than $100 billion in invested capital, representatives said.

Roundup Ready sugar beets, which are genetically modified to tolerate Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide, are expected to make up the bulk of U.S. sugar beet plantings this year for the first time.

Limited plantings in Idaho and other states the past few years have shown Roundup Ready beets to be highly effective in helping farmers to control a wide variety of weeds.

The technology has the potential to reduce the total amount of herbicides used on the crop, helping to protect the environment, according to growers.

By reducing the number of trips across the field, Roundup Ready beets also have the potential to save nearly 1.7 million gallons of fuel per year and reduce associated greenhouse gas emissions, the industry argues.

GM opponents sometimes refer to sugar from Roundup Ready beets as ".Roundup Ready sugar or genetically modified sugar" but there's no such thing, said Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.

".Frankly, it's a deceptive tactic" Markwart said. ".The sugar beet is genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, but the sugar that's extracted is the same".

Activists have used similar tactics against other GM crops, Markwart said.

".This is an attempt to grab some headlines" Markwart said. ".These are tactics that (activists) have tried for many years, unsuccessfully".

Most of the companies being targeted have been using ingredients from other biotech crops for more than a decade, Markwart said.

Beets aren't the first Roundup Ready crop to come down the pike, Markwart said.

Roundup Ready corn, soybeans and cotton have all been around for several years.

Government regulators ".know this crop inside and out". and have approved it, he said.

The U.S. may be the first country to grow GM sugar crops, but it probably won't be the last, Markwart said.

".Brazil, Australia, South Africa and Argentina are all moving in this direction" he said. ".We happen to be the first one ... We're the first one out of the box".

Margaret Weber, coordinator of corporate responsibility for Adrian Dominican Sisters, said that many food companies might choose to label products containing GM ingredients if they could.

But the U.S. doesn't segregate GM commodities from non-GM commodities, and it doesn't label food products that contain ingredients from GM crops.

That has made it extremely difficult for food companies to choose between non-GM and GM corn or soybeans, she said.

".The system will be the same for GMO sugar beets if the planting goes forward" Weber said. ".This prevents choice for companies and it prevents choice for consumers".