Amalgamated Sugar Co. and Western Sugar Co. are preparing a $4 million campaign to try to change consumer perceptions about genetically modified crops.
The proposed “Fresh Look” campaign will initially target three large urban areas. If successful, it will be expanded into a $30 million national campaign. It will focus on young mothers who make decisions about household food purchases.
“We’re losing the online debate,” said Idaho sugar beet farmer Duane Grant. “We can’t just sit back and let this evolve independently. We have to engage.”
We agree, and are impressed that the sugar industry is making such a large investment. We hope the campaign doesn’t come too late to change widely held attitudes against genetic modifications that are based on a lot of misinformation.
There are nine commercially available genetically modified crops — sweet and field corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, potatoes and squash.
In the 20 years since they began to become available, the crops have been widely adopted by farmers. Less than 10 percent of the corn and soybeans planted in the United States are non-GMO varieties.
No one has forced genetic modifications onto the market. Contrary to widely held belief, farmers have voluntarily adopted genetically modified varieties over conventional seed stock because they offer economic benefits to growers.
Certainly sugar beet growers are a prime example. Weed control is difficult with conventional varieties, requiring a great deal of manual labor. Varieties engineered to be resistant to glyphosate herbicide, though themselves more expensive, have greatly reduced labor costs and increased grower returns.
Glyphosate-resistant varieties have also helped farmers reduce the amount of herbicides they have to spray on crops, not only improving their bottomline but also the environment.
And despite what many people believe, the scientific community says there is no greater risk from foods produced with genetically modified ingredients than there is from food produced with conventional seed stock. The USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration agree.
New advances in the technology promise to increase yields, and improve crop tolerance to drought and changes in climate.
Over the years we’ve seen that much of the opposition to genetically modified crops is generated by animus toward the large companies, particularly Monsanto, that dominate the seed business. That’s based on a perception that big is bad, and won’t be easily changed.
The campaign won’t change everyone’s mind. Some people will never accept genetically modified crops. But an effort of this scale should at least provide consumers with facts to make an informed decision.