Beet the System

 

Studies have shown that these sugar beets also contain significant amounts of hydrogen hydroxide.

Consumers and producers are capable of incredible folly. Consider, for example, the latest instance of anti-GMO hysteria: Under pressure from consumers, several major food companies — including Hershey’s Chocolate — have decided to only use “non-GMO” sugar. This is stupid for several reasons. To begin with, crystalline sugar does not contain any genetic material, in much the same way that a cat is not made up of several dogs. Indeed, attempts to correctly identify the source of table sugar have found that it’s refined to the point that it’s impossible to tell whether it came from sugar cane or sugar beets, let alone GMO whether or not they were GMO or not; it doesn’t just look identical, but actually is identical, down to the molecular level. Moreover, GMO sugar beets come in a single, well-understood variety that actually reduces pesticide use and increases yield.

This isn’t a market failure so much as a consumer one: People want to pay a premium for magic, and the market obliges them. That many of these same consumers will then cry murder about pesticide and land use is a sad but separate problem. On the other hand, the very same market can succeed when consumers aren’t actively misled, the government operates within a small scope, and producers are allowed to innovate. Via Ron Bailey, it appears that at least some uses of the CRISPR gene-editing technology don’t fall under the current rules that apply to GMOs (especially if there’s no genetic transfer from one organism to another). Upshot? Innovation from relatively small producers who don’t have to overcome nine-figure regulatory burdens:

Natural SocietyFor example, the Pennsylvania State plant pathologist Yinong Yang has used the technique to engineer the common white button mushroom to resist browning. He did that by using CRISPR to delete a few base pairs from a gene. In October, Yang asked the USDA if his edited mushroom requires the agency’s approval to grow and market. In April, the agency replied that since the mushroom contained no foreign DNA, it did not fall under its regulations.

Some researchers in Israel have used CRISPR to create cucumbers that resist several plant disease viruses. Again, since no foreign genes or DNA was introduced into the pickle precursors, they should not fall under the purview of current U.S. biotech regulations. Similarly, British researchers have used CRISPR to change how seeds develop in barley and broccoli. Chinese researchers have used gene-editing to create a wheat variety that resists powdery mildew.

Of course, it won’t last. But it might let some people afford better food at good prices while it does.

There are 32 comments.

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  1. Tom Riehl Inactive
    Tom Riehl
    @TrinityWaters

    When I laid eyes on the title of your post, I immediately assumed it was going to announce some good or bad change to the government’s sugar subsidization program.

    • #1
  2. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: This isn’t a market failure so much as a consumer one: People want to pay a premium for magic, and the market obliges them.

    One might consider it a great market success to extract so much coin for nothing. Some of us will never be able to afford virtue signaling or moral preening unless we find a way into industries that provide these commodities.

    • #2
  3. Sarah Joyce Member
    Sarah Joyce
    @SarahJoyce

    Every time I hear about GMO boycotts, my immediate thought is #firstworldproblems. Oh, to have the luxury of rejecting drought and pest resistant crops because pseudoscience.

    That said, I do have some concerns about GMO’s and biodiversity, but that won’t keep me from lauding them for creating stable crops in countries with food insecurity.

    • #3
  4. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Tom Riehl:

    When I laid eyes on the title of your post, I immediately assumed it was going to announce some good or bad change to the government’s sugar subsidization program.

    Sadly, I have no update on that front.

    • #4
  5. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Sarah Joyce:Every time I hear about GMO boycotts, my immediate thought is #firstworldproblems. Oh, to have the luxury of rejecting drought and pest resistant crops because pseudoscience.

    Nailed it.

    • #5
  6. PHenry Member
    PHenry
    @PHenry

    I am torn on the GMO issue.  Part of me understands that GMO is just a fancy form of hybrid breeding and selective breeding.  But there is another more troubling aspect that has to do with gene splicing between species.  While I have no scientific insight or knowledge on the subject, it seems fraught with possible dangers.

    Maybe someone who better understands the processes and laws that cover them can enlighten me, but it seems possible, if not likely, that GMO gone too far could release ‘feral’ GMO organisms in to the environment with possibly catastrophic effects?

    So while I’m not afraid to eat GMO sugars etc, I don’t know that just willy nilly release of gene manipulated organisms isn’t inherently dangerous?

    • #6
  7. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    PHenry:Maybe someone who better understands the processes and laws that cover them can enlighten me, but it seems possible, if not likely, that GMO gone too far could release ‘feral’ GMO organisms in to the environment with possibly catastrophic effects?

    There are several available safeguards, depending on the organism in question. In the case of GMO sugar beets, there are major ones built-in*:

    What about cross contamination?

    Sugar beets are biennial and do not produce flowers when grown for sugar; the only time pollen is shed from a sugar beet plant is during seed production. All commercial seed production for the entire U.S. occurs in Oregon. Sugar beets are close relatives of Swiss chard and table beets, so they can fertilize each other and they are all present in Oregon.

    Upon introduction of GE sugar beets, the sugar beet seed companies recognized the need to voluntarily implement practices to reduce the risk of unintended pollen flow. They identified publicly where they were located so organic farmers could mind isolation distances, they increased their minimum isolation distance to greater than twice the Oregon Seed Certification program mandate, and they moved the GE trait to the female side of the hybrid (the side that does not produce pollen) so only conventional pollen would be present.

    * This link has been back-added to the post. I forgot to add it.

    • #7
  8. PHenry Member
    PHenry
    @PHenry

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: the sugar beet seed companies recognized the need to voluntarily implement practices to reduce the risk of unintended pollen flow.

    But as Michael Crichton put it, life finds a way.  GMO sugar beets are very likely not to pose a risk, but someday,  something more destructive may get loose?

    There is no avoiding the technological advances of science, but one day, some way, it is gonna get out of the lab.

    • #8
  9. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    There is no such thing as an organism that has not been genetically modified.

    • #9
  10. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    It seems to me reluctance to accept GMO foods springs from the same source as reluctance to accept claims about global warming.

    Having been painfully taught not to trust what the elites say- because those elites lie continuously without shame, to advance their own naked self interests- the public assumes that when they are told that GMOs are safe this is yet another lie intended to enrich the politically connected.

    You reap what you sow- and our clever elites have been planting for many years to bring us this bitter harvest now ripened.

    • #10
  11. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Xennady:It seems to me reluctance to accept GMO foods springs from the same source as reluctance to accept claims about global warming.

    Having been painfully taught not to trust what the elites say- because those elites lie continuously without shame, to advance their own naked self interests- the public assumes that when they are told that GMOs are safe this is yet another lie intended to enrich the politically connected.

    There’s a post that’s been knocking around in my head for a while that gets at that. Basic thesis is that elites often mistake anti-clericalism with anti-science. More generally, I think a lot of contemporary American politics (particularly on the Right) can be explained as a kind of anti-clericalism, it’s just that the priests in question aren’t religious.

    • #11
  12. Betty Inactive
    Betty
    @BettyW

    I’m just fine with hybridization of foods as can occur in nature.  A few years ago I read (is it true?) that researchers put rodent, or insect DNA in food plants.   Don’t want to eat that.  Also, since foods can be medicine (shi take mushrooms,) I’d want to know if what is being turned off or on in a plant’s DNA is something that would reduce it’s health benefits for humans.  Recently read that vitamins are not all that useful, you don’t really know what is in them, so eating good foods is even more important.

    • #12
  13. Betty Inactive
    Betty
    @BettyW

    Excuse me, my just post is showing as redacted for coc.  Why?  We’re writing about foods, plant DNA and vitamins.  Please let me know what is wrong.

    • #13
  14. Betty Inactive
    Betty
    @BettyW

    I am fine with hybridization as can occur in nature.

    • #14
  15. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Betty:

    Excuse me, my just post is showing as redacted for coc. Why? We’re writing about foods, plant DNA and vitamins. Please let me know what is wrong.

    You did nothing wrong. The system is a little trigger happy and mistook a mushroom varietal for excrement.

    • #15
  16. Betty Inactive
    Betty
    @BettyW

    We’ll, it wasn’t that line.  A few years ago I read, but don’t know if it is true, that researchers were putting rodent and insect DNA into food plants.

    • #16
  17. Betty Inactive
    Betty
    @BettyW

    Not that one.  Recently red that we don’t really know what is in over the counter vitamins, my doc said don’t bother, just eat good foods.  So we are trying to do that.

    • #17
  18. Betty Inactive
    Betty
    @BettyW

    Also, some foods, like shitake mushrooms, have really healthful benefits, and I wonder if the DNA researchers may turn off or turn on in a plant might reduce those healthful benefits.

    • #18
  19. Betty Inactive
    Betty
    @BettyW

    I think I see.  I typed the name of very healthful mushroom which begins with the letter “S” and the computer thought it was something bad?  Well, my concern is that by adding or deleting DNA from plants, such as this not to be named mushroom that begins with “S” and is seven letters long, GMO plant scientists may reduce the healthful benefits.  (Mushroom name sounds close to Maitake mushroom.)

    • #19
  20. Betty Inactive
    Betty
    @BettyW

    Thanks, editor

    • #20
  21. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    The RoundUp ready GMO sugar beets have greatly changed the economics of sugar beet growers. Lots of sugar beets are grown in eastern Montana, and they used to be hoed for weeds by hand by Mexican migrant workers every summer. Now they just spray RoundUp on the field to kill the weeds and not the beets. 20-40 acres of beets used to be all that one grower could handle with a crew of about 4 or 5 hands. Now a grower with the same crew can handle upwards of 200 acres.

    • #21
  22. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Betty:

    Excuse me, my just post is showing as redacted for coc. Why? We’re writing about foods, plant DNA and vitamins. Please let me know what is wrong.

    You did nothing wrong. The system is a little trigger happy and mistook a mushroom varietal for excrement.

    I have that same problem, but I’m a picky eater.

    • #22
  23. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Z in MT:

    The RoundUp ready GMO sugar beets have greatly changed the economics of sugar beet growers. Lots of sugar beets are grown in eastern Montana, and they used to be hoed for weeds by hand by Mexican migrant workers every summer. Now they just spray RoundUp on the field to kill the weeds and not the beets. 20-40 acres of beets used to be all that one grower could handle with a crew of about 4 or 5 hands. Now a grower with the same crew can handle upwards of 200 acres.

    Very interesting.

    • #23
  24. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Sarah Joyce:Every time I hear about GMO boycotts, my immediate thought is #firstworldproblems. Oh, to have the luxury of rejecting drought and pest resistant crops because pseudoscience.

    Very true. I’ve written in defense of some first world problems, but this is just absurd. And, as you say, it’s particularly absurd when it’s about providing people with good nutrition and a way of earning a living.

    • #24
  25. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    PHenry:But as Michael Crichton put it, life finds a way. GMO sugar beets are very likely not to pose a risk, but someday, something more destructive may get loose?

    Likely, yes and it’ll probably be messy.

    On the other hand, we’ve plenty of problems with non-GMO invasive species and GMO ones could have safeguards built into them.

    So, yes, there’s a risk — and we should try to mitigate it — but there’s also a lot of potential gain.

    • #25
  26. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Betty: I’m just fine with hybridization of foods as can occur in nature. A few years ago I read (is it true?) that researchers put rodent, or insect DNA in food plants. Don’t want to eat that.

    If it is true, I wasn’t able to turn up anything. This post is a few years old, but Monsanto says that none of their foostuffs are transgenetic in an animal-to-plant way.

    I agree it sounds unappetizing, but I’m also not sure that’s dispositive. Our disgust reactions shouldn’t be ignored, but they can also easily mislead us. The idea of cutting a healthy-looking person open to remove a tiny tumor certainly sounds awful, but we’ve come to see the benefits of surgery. I’m not saying that we should view animal-to-plant transgenetics that way, but that we should be open to the idea that we should.

    • #26
  27. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I’m not saying that we should view animal-to-plant transgenetics that way, but that we should be open to the idea that we should.

    This is one of the most meta statements I’ve read on Ricochet lately.  I have to say, I’m open to the idea that I should be open to being open about this.

    • #27
  28. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    My  S h i h – T z u  once ate a  s h i i t a k e  mushroom.

    It made him [CoC] all over the place.

    • #28
  29. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Johnny Dubya:My S h i h – T z u once ate a s h i i t a k e mushroom.

    Did it bring all the boys to the yard?

    • #29
  30. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    Mark Wilson:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I’m not saying that we should view animal-to-plant transgenetics that way, but that we should be open to the idea that we should.

    This is one of the most meta statements I’ve read on Ricochet lately. I have to say, I’m open to the idea that I should be open to being open about this.

    Your opinion simply doesn’t matter.

    Eventually, the Supreme Court will declare animal-to-plant transgenetics a Constitutional right, even though animal-to-plant transgenetics were never actually mentioned in the document and the Founders had no idea it would come up later.

    • #30

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