Beat the beat - what's wrong with Roundup Ready sugar beet

News archive - March 2009. Please note links may no longer be active.

... GM alert

Herbicide-tolerant GM sugar beet was one of the GM crops being considered for commercialisation back in the 1990s. That was until the UK Farm Scale Evaluations proved the herbicide-based farming system it was designed for wasn't environmentally friendly.

Around the same time, Hershey's and Mars sensed their US customers wouldn't welcome GM candy-bars, and announced they would not use GM beet sugar. However, both companies have been notably silent on the issue ever since. And now we know why.

Last year, 2008, farmers in the US planted their first season of Monsanto's Roundup Ready (RR) sugar beet. Over half the sugar in processed foods comes from sugar beet and the rest from sugar cane. The two are routinely mixed together, but food-labels don't give details of the type of sugars present. Besides candies, GM sugar in the US will now be included, unlabelled, in staple cereals, bread and baby foods.

One problem, of course is that GM beet hasn't been proven safe to eat. Since sugar beet is wind-pollinated and closely related to common vegetables such as chard and table beets, contamination of the food chain with unapproved GM hybrids is likely.

A second problem, just coming to light, concerns the safety of the Roundup herbicide residues in RR foods. Herbicide-tolerant plants actively absorb Roundup through their leaves and then transport it to other parts, such as the root, where it accumulates. In 1999, Monsanto realised that its GM beet far exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's allowable residues of glyphosate and requested these be increased to make its GM crop legal. The result has been that the maximum 'safe' levels of glyphosate were re-set at 10 parts per million (a 50-fold increase) in fresh beet and at 25 parts per million (a 125-fold increase) in dried beet pulp which is fed to livestock. Inexplicably, regulation of the residues of other, secret and more toxic, components of the various Roundup formulations seem to be simply lumped in with glyphosate. What toxic cocktail ends up in the sugar beet harvested is unknown. What toxic cocktail is extracted and refined into processed sugar is unknown. What toxic cocktail ends up in the meat and milk of cattle fed GM beet is unknown. What science has discovered is that Roundup at only 1 parts per million can be harmful to human cells.

If America seems far away, remember Hershey and Mars sell their products here too, the difference being that in Europe they must be labelled as containing GM.

Hershey's “Reese's Nutrageous” bars with GM soya, GM corn and GM sugar listed on the label have been spotted in Sainsbury's in Scotland and they are rumoured to be in Tesco's too.

During the last two years, GM 'KTC' cooking oil has been on sale in Tesco, and GM 'Pride' cooking oil has been on sale in Tesco, the Co-op, and Sainsbury's. Schwartz 'Seasoned Salad Topping' with soya 'bacon-flavoured bits' containing three GM soya and one GM maize ingredients has been on sale in Sainsbury's and beyond for some time.

Be vigilant. If you spot any GM labels in your supermarket, please tell GM Freeze by e-mailing ( with details of:
  • the name of the product
  • the GM ingredient(s) concerned
  • the name and address of the shop where you saw the item for sale
  •  if at all possible, a photograph of the label stating the GM content
  •  and, if you have made a complaint to the management, what response you got.

Alas, it seems time to go back to the same old letters we were writing in the 1990s asking supermarkets for lists of products on their shelves which contain GM, and pointing out we can shop elsewhere if we can't trust the food they offer. Start with Tesco and Sainsbury's:

Tesco customer service is (

If you don't get a sensible reply, write to the Chief Executive, Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco, New Tesco House, Delamare Road, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire EN8 9SL

Sainsbury's customer service 'careline' is 0800 636 262.

If you don't get a sensible reply, write to the Chief Executive, Justin King, Sainsbury's, 33 Holborn, London EC1N 2HT

Friends or relatives in America might like to know about the Center for Food Safety's recently launched 'Non-Genetically-Modified Beet Sugar Registry '. Companies signing on to the Registry pledge not to support the introduction of GM sugar beet, to avoid using it in their products and to ask the sugar beet industry to ditch GM.

  • Benachour and Seralini, Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells, Chemical research in Toxicology, 22:1 2009
  • GM Sugar Beets Being Planted, Center For Food Safety Fact Sheet, June 2008
  • Tell Mars and Hershey's to sign the Non-GM Beet Sugar Registry, GM Freeze Press Release, 13.02.09
  • Products containing GM in the UK, GM Freeze, 20.02.09,
  • Friends of the Earth Real Food News, 13.02.09.
  • GM Animal Feed – The hidden GM in your trolley, GM Freeze leaflet, 2009.

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