Monsanto Sugar Beet Battle May Lead to Sugar Shortage

Food giant Monsanto is so large that it can disrupt an entire food supply chain--the sweetest one there is. A court battle over genetically modified Monsanto sugar beets (detailed here) may lead to a drop in U.S. sugar production over the next two years, driving up prices for shoppers and food processors alike.

How can a single company shake up sugar production like that? In a nutshell: a judge recently ordered 256 acres of seed-producing Monsanto baby beet plants pulled out of the ground because the company didn't go through the proper USDA approval process when the beets were approved for use in 2005. And now the sugar industry is in trouble--50 percent of the U.S. sugar supply comes from sugar beets, and more than 90 percent of sugar beets are genetically engineered.

In theory, the solution is just to switch to conventional seeds. But Monsanto has dominated the market so much in the past few years that there might not be enough conventional seeds available to meet demand. As a result, total domestic sugar production could fall by as much as 20 percent, according to the New York Times.

A new environmental impact statement from the USDA won't be ready until 2012, but the organization may give Monsanto's sugar beets partial approval in the meantime. If a judge overturns it, Monsanto will just have to wait. The sugar industry will suffer, but the entire sugar-consuming public will finally be able to see how deep Monsanto has burrowed into our daily lives.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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3 Comments

  • Alden Jole

    I get the impression that this article is implying that Monsanto is going to be morally responsible for the drop in sugar production over the next two years. This implication would not be fair to Monsanto.

    Is Monsanto conspiring against obesity?

  • Meteja Sosa

    This is a very important case--if for no other reason than to show how deep Monsanto and the other GM producers are in our pockets and our cupboards. "There might not be enough conventional seeds available to meet demand."

    Extrapolate that out to the full line of crops Monsanto has under patent, and it's pretty obvious that, without the Monsanto "frankenseed," the US ag business would collapse? When did that happen?

    Educate yourselves on Senate Bill 510 (SB 510), which endeavors to make it illegal for you to plant a garden on your own land, and prices organic farmers and farmers markets out of business, with an abundance of testing and recordkeeping.

    This is supposedly in response to the factory food industry, with the salmonella and Ecoli outbreaks in peanut butter and bagged salad a year or two ago. But really, it is about placing tighter controls on the food supply, and where you get your daily bread.

    Who do you suppose is funding this legislation? Monsanto wants conventional seed illegal to own, hence it goes extinct...so all that is left is their frankenseed.

    If you thought big oil was objectionable, go rent "Food, Inc."