Friday, May 13, 2016

Big Candy's move away from GMO products hurts beet farmers, helps sugarcane industry

Farmers growing genetically modified beets are losing the Big Candy war to sugarcane farmers, who are struggling to keep up with growing demand for non-GMO products, Dan Charles reports for NPR. Eight years ago many beet farmers made the switch to mostly using genetically modified versions of the crop, which can tolerate the weedkiller glyphosate (Roundup). "About half of all sugar in the U.S. comes from sugar beets and the other half comes from sugarcane. Now, for the first time, sugar traders are treating these as two different commodities, with two different prices."

Michael McConnell, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, said beet sugar sells for 3 to 5 cents less than cane sugar on the spot market, Charles writes. "It means that buyers are paying 10 to 15 percent more for cane sugar. Meanwhile, the amount of beet sugar looking for buyers has been increasing, while there's a shortage of cane sugar. That shortage is bad enough that sugar users, such as candy companies, are asking the USDA to allow more imports of cane sugar to ease the shortage."

In 2015 Hershey Co., one of the top sugar users in the country, switched from using beet sugar to cane sugar, Charles writes. Deborah Arcoleo, the firm's director of product transparency, told Charles, "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."

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