Just as HC&S is shutting down its Maui plantation, sugar is becoming more profitable.
Ironically, that profitability is linked to the anti-GMO movement, whose members include some of the very same anti-ag activists who worked so hard to kill HC&S with their unceasing complaints and litigation about cane smoke, water diversions and herbicides.
In the bizarre new world of activist-driven agriculture, the twisted chain of events goes like this:
In their quest to destroy agricultural biotech, anti-GMO activists stimulated irrational health fears, particularly in moms, who began clamoring for GMO-free candy.
Big candy-makers like Hershey's, one of the nation's top sugar-users, listened. According to Deborah Arcoleo, director of product transparency at the Hershey Co.:
In 2015 we started reformulating Hershey’s Kisses, Hershey’s milk chocolate, and Hershey’s milk chocolate with almonds, to move from beet sugar to cane sugar, and that’s complete. Now we’re looking to do that across the rest of our portfolio, to the extent that we can.
As a result, NPR reported, the price for beet sugar — much of it produced by genetically engineered Roundup Ready sugar beets — dropped below the price for cane sugar. Buyers are now paying 10 to 15 percent more for cane sugar, an expense that no doubt will be reflected in the price of candy.
So now sugar beet farmers are faced with a choice: go back to conventional beets, or get a lower price — or perhaps no buyers at all — for their GMO product.
The anti-GMO activists no doubt consider this a success, having employed fear-driven consumer pressure to bring Hershey's — and the beet farmers who supplied it with sugar — to their knees.
But is it really a win? Consider that beet farmers embraced the GMO variety because it helped them reliably produce a crop with fewer herbicides. Duane Grant, a sugar beet grower in Idaho, described cultivation in the pre-Roundup Ready days:
It was a nightmare. We had failures all the time — fields that would become unharvestable because of our failure to control weeds. We had an army of people applying herbicides around the clock or just at night. We did micro-rates, we did maxi-rates, you name it.
We had one sprayer for every 500 acres, so eight sprayers running around.They would work whenever they could. It might be all night long; it might be 24 hours straight because they had a window.
It was a horrible life.
As weedcontrolfreaks.com notes:
The herbicide regimen used to include 4 to 6 different herbicides applied between 3 to 6 times per year, at 5 to 10 day intervals. Even after this much herbicide spraying, around 40 to 60% of sugarbeet fields had to be hand-weeded because the herbicides rarely provided complete weed control. Compare that to the Roundup Ready (GMO) system, where 2 or 3 applications of glyphosate have replaced the many herbicide sprays that were used previously, while providing better weed control.
By 2009, only two years after widespread adoption of GMO sugar beet, over 50,000 acres of sugar beet fields were converted to some form of reduced or conservation tillage practices in Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming. That number is probably much higher now. Conservation tillage practices improve soil health, reduce soil erosion, and preserve soil moisture. Conservation tillage simply wasn’t possible in sugarbeet before the introduction of Roundup Ready varieties, because intensive tillage was needed to obtain adequate weed control in the crop.
OK, so we're seeing clear environmental and social benefits from GMO sugar beets — gains that will be lost by a return to non-GMO beets.
Meanwhile, the Maui elitists who felt sugar cane production was incompatible with their desired lifestyle are helping to encourage that crop in places like Central America, where the harvesting is done by migrant workers who have a high incidence of chronic kidney disease due, it's thought, to laboring in the hot tropical sun without sufficient rest, shade and water.
This reality is totally lost on anti-GMO activists, who have absolutely no grasp of the consequences of their actions — even as they claim to be motivated by concerns for farm worker health and environmental contamination.
As sugar beet grower Andrew Beyer told NPR:
To me, it’s insane to think that a non-GMO beet is going to be better for the environment, the world, or the consumer.
But Beyer says he’ll do it if he needs to.
Yeah, if the insanity of the anti-GMO movement keeps driving the market, farmers will respond.
But activists should stop pretending that they're doing any of this for benefit of the environment or the farmers. Because clearly, they're not.