Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Treacherous Kisses?

Our weekly guest post from Jonathan Javitt, author of Capitol Reflections:

Genetically modified (GM) beet sugar is generally used to make Hershey's Kisses – but that will no longer be the case in Brazil. The company recently announced it won't use GM beet sugar in its Brazilian-made products, but Hershey has not made any such promises for its US products.

In light of this, a number of consumer watch-dog groups in the US are urging people to take action; several years ago, Hershey told U.S. consumers it would not use genetically engineered sugar. But now genetically modified sugar beets are being planted commercially in the US and Hershey is utilizing sugar made from these plants for their hugely popular “Kisses” candy.

Additionally, the nation's largest sugar manufacturer, Crystal Sugar (from whom Hershey buys its sugar), said in the past that they would not be using GM sugar beets and indicated that herbicide-resistant varieties developed using biotechnology would not “be sold, given away, distributed, or planted.” But it doesn't look like that promise has been kept.

The New York Times reported last year in an article, “Round Two for Biotech Beets”that the sugar manufacturer abandoned its promise not to use genetically-modified sugar because public resistance to GM foods seems to have faded. Crystal Sugar and others now support the cultivation of GM beets because it will increase yields. According this article, beet sugar is unlike many GM foods in that the sugar molecule in GM beets is identical to the sugar molecule made by non-GM beets. Sugar, as a pure, crystalline substance contains no genetically modified strands of DNA or proteins.

GM beets are produced by Monsanto, which is a concern to many consumer groups – and agriculture activists - because of perceived dangers of Monsanto’s pesticide resistant technology and the aggressive marketing to farmers who don't use their products. The GM beets are called Roundup Ready Beets because their DNA has been altered to survive applications of Roundup weed-killer.

Consumer groups are concerned about the introduction of GM foods for human consumption in the US because there are no clear requirements for pre-market safety testing. The nation’s food safety laws were written before GM foods were conceived and although those laws focus on proving the safety of food additives and adulterated foods, genetic modification is considered neither an additive nor an adulterant.

While these issues are debated, still others are worried about Monsanto's central role in our food supply. As I mention in my book, altering the food supply could potentially play a big role – and cause big problems – in our society. In the “real world,” this is easy to see - increasing use of GM seed and food gives Monsanto – a GMO giant - a great deal of control over the production of food, and only a handful of corporations like Monsanto are involved in agricultural biotechnology.

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