This requires a deeper dive, but somebody needs to stick a pin it. Last week it was reported that demand for cane sugar is up, and outstripping supply. This comes as major food manufacturers are starting to reformulate their products in reaction to pending GMO labeling laws, in Vermont and potentially from the US Congress.
Vermont’s new requirements for food companies to label GMO ingredients have “turbo boosted” the trend toward cane, said one buyer.
I’m sure many critics of biotech crops will see this as a step in the right direction. However, it will be interesting to see how they justify this shift. As it’s gone out of fashion to worry publicly about potential and imagined health risk of biotech in respectable circles, the current tactic is to opine about the environmental impacts of biotech crops. The problem here is that it’s nearly impossible to argue that switching from the biotech sugar beets that currently make up the bulk of the US sugar supply to sugarcane is in any way a net benefit to the environment. Sugarcane is an environmentally intensive crop. It requires large amounts of water and often threatens local aquifers. It is a tropical crop which requires the deforestation of vital, biodiverse habitat to allow for new production.
Few commodities have a darker history than sugarcane. A labour-intensive monocrop that once relied on slavery, it has more recently encompassed child labour, land-grabs and [PDF] the displacement of communities. A notoriously “thirsty” crop, it depletes aquifers and pollutes seas with chemical fertiliser and pesticide run-off. The common practice of burning fields accounts for 20% of the crop’s CO2 emissions.
[Please consider supporting FAFDL.org by ongoing contribution of $1, $2, $3, $5 or $10 a month on Patreon.]
Sugarcane cultivation grew globally from 19m hectares in 2000 to nearly 24m by 2010 (pdf): the same as palm oil and cocoa combined. With the world’s increasingly sweet tooth and demand for sugar-derived ethanol, this expansion is set to continue.
Just as when Chipotle switched from biotech ingredients that used less insecticides and better herbicides to non-GMO ingredients that used more insecticides and less than better herbicides, the faux environmentalism of the Anti-GMO movement comes into greater and greater focus as they rack up another real world victory. Or should I say, “victory”.