Gene modified crop spurs investor revolt (5/3/2008)

1.Gene modified crop spurs investor revolt - Financial Times

2.Religious Investors Urge 63 Top U.S. Restaurant, Food, Beverage, Candy Companies to Oppose Spring Planting of Genetically Modified Sugar Beets - ICCR press release

3.Stop Monsanto's RoundUp Ready (RR) Sugar Beet! - Action Alert!

EXTRACT: A total of 63 leading U.S. restaurant, food, beverage and candy companies - including such household names as McDonald's, Campbell Soup, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Sara Lee, PepsiCo, Wendy's and Hershey's - are the focus of a major Web-based campaign at http://www.dontplantgmobeets.org/ seeking to block the April 2008 planting of genetically modified sugar beets. (item 2)


1.Gene modified crop spurs investor revolt
By Jonathan Birchall in New York Financial Times, March 5 2008

A group of socially concerned US investors has launched a public campaign calling on food companies not to use a controversial new genetically engineered sugar beet crop that is to be planted for the first time this spring.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) is calling on consumers to write to 63 companies, including Heinz, Campbell’s Soup, General Mills and Kraft, asking them to say they will not use a new sugar beet strain developed by Monsanto.

ICCR is a coalition of more than 300 faith-based institutional investors that has been in the vanguard of successful efforts to make companies more responsive to a range of social and environmental concerns.

Its members have filed shareholder resolutions calling on the McDonald's and Wendy's restaurants chains and Safeway supermarkets to label products that contain genetically engineered ingredients.

In a break with its usual focus on shareholder resolutions, it has launched a web-site, www.dontplantGMObeets.org, that calls on consumers to send letters to the management of the food companies that are the focus of its campaign. The letter cites survey claims that 50 per cent of US consumers would prefer not to buy GM products, and calls on the companies 'to publicly oppose the spring 2008 planting of genetically modified sugar beets'.

The 'Roundup Ready' sugar beet in question was approved for planting by the US Department of Agriculture in March 2005. It has been genetically engineered to make it resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

In January, four activist groups opposed to GM crops, including the Sierra Club, the largest US environmental group, filed a lawsuit in California calling on the agriculture department to review its approval of the beets.

A similar lawsuit led a federal judge to issue a nationwide ban last year against further planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa, pending a further environmental review by the federal government.

Leslie Lowe, of the ICCR, said that leading food companies, including McDonald's, Campbell's Soup, General Mills and Anheuser Busch, had already chosen not to use a variety of genetically engineered ingredients. 'This is a front-burner brand, reputation and consumer confidence issue [for the companies],' she said.


2.Religious Investors Urge 63 Top U.S. Restaurant, Food, Beverage, Candy Companies to Oppose Spring Planting of Genetically Modified Sugar Beets
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, New York City PressRelease, 4 Mar 2008

NEW YORK, March 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A total of 63 leading U.S. restaurant, food, beverage and candy companies - including such household names as McDonald's, Campbell Soup, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Sara Lee, PepsiCo, Wendy's and Hershey's - are the focus of a major Web-based campaign at http://www.dontplantgmobeets.org/ seeking to block the April 2008 planting of genetically modified sugar beets. The genetically modified sugar beet crop would be used to make the sugar contained in thousands of the most widely consumed food products in the U.S., according to the Web site created by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) - a broad-based coalition of nearly 300 faith-based investors with over $100 billion in invested capital.

ICCR is concerned about sugar beets and other genetically modified crops because of weak governmental review and oversight, and the lack of long-term, independent and peer-reviewed safety studies.

The sample letter text provided for consumers visiting http://www.dontplantgmobeets.org/ reads in part: 'As a consumer, I am writing to urge your company to publicly oppose the spring 2008 planting of genetically modified sugar beets in the United States. You have the power to tell agribusiness firms that you won't buy sugar made from genetically modified sugar beets. You should know that I am among the more than 50 percent of Americans who avoid genetically modified foods if given a choice. That means that if you publicly announce that your company will NOT use sugar from genetically modified sugar beets, I will be more likely to spend my hard-earned money with you. If you decide to use genetically modified sugar, I will avoid your products. And I would take that one step farther: If you fail to label your food or beverage as containing genetically modified sugar, I will have to operate on the assumption that it does contain the product ... and I will avoid it just to be safe. I am a big believer in consumers getting good information and having real choices. I do not want to be 'forced' to eat genetically modified sugar either because it is sneaked into my food on an undisclosed basis or because it is added into virtually all food and beverages.'

Leslie Lowe, director, Energy & Environment Program, Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, said: 'This is a front-burner brand, reputation and consumer confidence issue for the biggest U.S. companies that sell food, drink, candy and other products containing sugar. These companies face major potential backlashes if they do not act now to stop the use of genetically modified sugar from sugar beets. Not only can these companies send a clear signal that they will not buy, but they have done this sort of thing before. McDonald's does not use genetically engineered potatoes. General Mills will not use genetically engineered wheat. Anheuser Busch does not use genetically engineered rice. Heinz has a policy of 'seeking to avoid' genetically modified organisms. Campbell's Soup Co. does not use genetically engineered tomatoes even though the company helped to develop such a tomato. Now, it is time for these companies and others to make it clear again that they are not going to try to sneak genetically modified sugar into the diets of Americans.'

Margaret Weber, coordinator of corporate responsibility, Adrian Dominican Sisters, said: 'These companies have active relationships with suppliers. They do not just 'take what comes.' Now is the time to signal that GE-sugar is off the table.'

Jeffrey Smith, author of 'Seeds of Deception' and 'Genetic Roulette,' said: 'Consumer concern about the mounting evidence of health problems linked with genetically modified foods will likely reach a tipping point in the near future, forcing GMOs out of the U.S. food supply. When Europe hit its GMO tipping point in April 1999, within a single week nearly all major food companies committed to remove genetically modified ingredients. While this took companies by surprise then, market indicators now suggest that the U.S. tipping point will take place before the end of 2009. In fact, consumer backlash against the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone rbGH has driven it out of products in about 40 of the top 100 dairies, as well as Starbucks, Kroger's, Publix, and others.'

The full 63 companies targeted in the ICCR campaign at http://www.dontplantgmobeets.org/ reads as follows: Alpine Confections Inc.; American Crystal Sugar Co.; American Foods Group LLC; American Licorice Co.; Anheuser-Busch, Cos. Inc.; Brown & Haley; Brown-Forman Corp.; Campbell Soup Co.; Canada Bread Co.; Coca-Cola Inc.; ConAgra Foods, Inc.; Cott Corp.; Dairy Farmers of America; Dannon Co. Inc.; Dean Foods, Co.; Del Monte Foods; Dole Food Co. Inc.; Farley's & Sathers Candy Co.; Ferrara Pan Candy Co.; Flowers Foods Inc.; Foremost Farms USA; Fortune Brands Inc.; General Mills, Inc.; Gilster-Mary Lee Corp.; Godiva Chocolatier Inc.; Golden State Foods; Gorton's; H.J. Heinz Co.; Hain Celestial Group; Hershey Co.; Imperial Sugar Co.; Interstate Bakeries Corp.; J&J Snack Foods; J.M. Smucker Co.; Just Born Inc.; Kellogg Co.; Kraft Foods; McDonald's; McKee Foods Corp.; Molson Coors Co.; Nestle (US and Canada); New England Confectionery, Co.; OSI Group; Pepsico Inc.; Procter & Gamble Co.; Reser's Fine Foods; Ruiz Foods; Russell Stover Candies Inc.; Sara Lee Corp.; Schwan Food Co.; Seneca Foods Inc.; Sherwood Brands, Inc.; Tootsie Roll Industries Inc.; TreeHouse Foods Inc.; Unilever North America; Warrell Corp.; Wells' Dairy; Wendy's; Weston Foods; Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.; World's Finest Chocolate Inc.; Zachary Confections, Inc.

Sugar beets have been modified to insert a gene that makes the plant resistant to glyphosate, a toxic herbicide, sold under the trade name Roundup. At the request of Roundup pesticide maker Monsanto, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently increased the allowable amount of glyphosate residues on sugar beet roots by a whopping 5,000 percent. (Sugar is extracted from the beet's root.) More than 50 percent of Americans have said they would reject genetically modified foods if given a choice. If the sugar beets in question are planted, genetically modified sugar will enter the food supply in early 2009. If the U.S. companies at the focus of the new ICCR campaign use genetically modified sugar, their exports to the European Union will require documentation and testing, an additional cost and inconvenience.


The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility is a coalition of nearly 300 faith-based institutional investors, representing over $100 billion in invested capital. ICCR members bridge the divide between morality and markets by envisioning a civic economy that integrates ethical, environmental and social values. Inspired by faith, committed to action, ICCR members work to build a just and sustainable global community. For more information on ICCR, visit http://www.iccr.org/.

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, New York City


3.Action Alert! Stop Monsanto's RoundUp Ready (RR) Sugar Beet!
Contributed by: John Peck

This coming spring Monsanto plans to unveil its RoundUp ready (RR) sugar beet, designed to withstand heavy doses of the herbicide, glyphosate. In preparation for this announcement, the EPA has already increased the acceptable limit of glyphosate residue in sugar beet roots by 5000%. 'Basically, we have not run into resistance,' said David Berg, president of American Crystal Sugar, quoted in the 11/27/07 New York Times, 'We really think that consumer attitudes have come to accept food from biotechnology.'

Beets have been grown and eaten by people and their animals for thousands of years, with first written mention from Mesopotamia in the 8th century B.C. This herbaceous biennial can grow up to 2 meters tall and is well known for its high levels of Vitamin C in the roots, Vitamin A in the leaves, and antioxidants throughout. A typical table beet has up to 10% sugar in its root, while a sugar beet boasts 15-20% sugar content. Beets have also been used since Roman times for a wide variety of medical purposes.

Monsanto and KWS, a German seed outfit, first unveiled their GE sugar beet (H7-1) back in 2004, and this patented variety was quickly rubberstamped by the FDA and USDA. It was temporarily shelved, though, when U.S. sugar processors and candy makers came out in opposition, fearing a consumer backlash to this latest genetically engineered food. Their resolve has weakened since then, which is why consumer rights and family farmer advocates are launching a renewed campaign to block GE sugar beet in 2008.

Over half of the sugar used in the U.S. now comes from sugar beets, grown by about 12,000 farmers on 1.4 million acres scattered across the northern U.S. from OR to MI. Much of the industry is located in the Red River Valley straddling MN and the Dakotas which is where Crystal Sugar is based, the largest cooperative sugar beet processor in the U.S. responsible for 15% of total production.

According to a recent Univ. of ND survey, about 57% of sugar beet growers cite weeds as their biggest problem, which would point to a potential demand for Monsanto's RR version. Of course, a farmer can never actually own Monsanto's patented crops, so the technology fee would amount to about $100 per 100,000 seeds per year ($50-$65/acre) - about twice the cost of conventional sugar beet seeds. Potential buyers of Monsanto’s RR sugar beets have also been told that they can expect to spray glyphosate up to five times annually.

For years the sugar beet industry has benefited from a quota system limiting imports of cane sugar from Latin America and the Caribbean under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Ironically enough, the decision to crawl into bed with Monsanto could jeopardize consumer trust in and political support for an industry that has long prided itself on producing a natural alternative to genetically engineered high fructose corn syrup and providing a more socially responsible agricultural model to the horribly exploitative conditions found on many tropical sugarcane plantations.

According to Monsanto’s supporters, consumer fears about GE sugar are unfounded since it is a refined product that contains no DNA or proteins, just the chemical sucrose. 'While the sugar beet is genetically different, the sugar is the same,' argues Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association and co-chairman of the Sugar Industry Biotech Council. Unresolved is the fact that sugar beet residue is widely used as a fertilizer on fields for other crops and sugar beet juice (mixed with salt) is now being touted as a biodegradable de-icing compound on winter roads. High levels of glyphosate application with other RR crops are blamed for a host of environmental problems – from frog mutations to problems with symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria in plant roots – and this situation would only be aggravated by GE sugar beet planting. Glyphosate is responsible for a third of all pesticide poisonings among CA farmworkers, and an estimated 63 weeds in the U.S. have now developed resistance.

About 3% of U.S. beet sugar production is currently exported and since all genetically engineered foods are required to have explicit consumer labeling in Europe, if Monsanto is allowed to fully commercialize its GE sugar beet, U.S. food manufacturers would most likely have to switch to cane sugar in order to keep those overseas markets. While the European Union has officially allowed the import of GE sugar beet for human and animal consumption, it will not allow the patented variety to be planted there.

Widespread introduction of RR sugar beet also bodes ill for the future of table beets, swiss chard, and mangold (a fodder beet used for livestock feed). The bulk of sugar beet seeds are grown in OR, a key seed growing area for other related crops in the Beta vulgaris family. 'Contamination from genetically engineered pollen is a major risk to both the conventional and organic seed farmers, who have a long history in the Willamette Valley,' said the Organic Seed Alliance’s Director of Advocacy, Matthew Dillon. 'The economic impact of contamination affects not only these seed farmers, but the beet and chard farmers who rely on the genetic integrity of their varieties. The government is playing fast and loose with these farmers’ livelihoods.'

On Jan 22, 2008 family farmers, consumer advocates, and conservation groups filed suit in federal court challenging the USDA’s deregulation of Monsanto’s RR sugar beet. Attorneys from the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice are representing plaintiffs Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Seeds. Building upon the successful court ruling against Monsanto’s RR alfalfa, this lawsuit seeks a thorough assessment of environmental, health, and associated economic impacts as required by federal law.

If you are worried about the integrity of natural beet sugar in the U.S. now is the time to express your concerns. Please contact the companies below to say that you will not be buying any products that may contain Monsanto’s GE beet sugar.

David J. West, CEO
100 Crystal A Drive
Hershey, PA 17033
Tel. 1-800-468-1714

M&M Mars
Paul S. Michaels, President
6885 Elm St.,
McLean, VA 22101
Tel. 1-800-627-7852

American Crystal Sugar Company
David Berg, President
101 North 3rd Street
Moorhead, MN 56560
Tel. 1-218-236-4400

James Jenness, Chairman and CEO
One Kellogg Square
Battle Creek, MI 49016-3599
Tel. 1-800-962-1413

For more info, contact:
Center for Food Safety
Tel. 202-547-9359

Family Farm Defenders
Tel. 608-260-0900

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