Natural Sweeteners

Spring 2008

Federal Approval of GE Beets Challenged

Prompted by Genetically Engineered Sugar

By Roberta Bailey

I feel like I have come full circle. When I started writing this column close to 25 years ago, I converted the sugar in recipes to honey or maple syrup, and I wrote about how to use other sweeteners in recipes. At the time, white sugar was called “white death,” and some parents went to extremes to keep it from their children.

Over the years, some white sugar has crept into this column and into my kitchen, although I usually use organic evaporated cane juice in recipes that rely on a granular sweetener for success. I mellowed into an “everything in moderation” approach.

The threat of genetically engineered (GE) products contaminating my food has changed that approach, once again making me very selective in order to avoid consuming foods made with GE corn or soy – or, now, sugar. Farmers in the Upper Midwest and West anticipate growing GE (Roundup Ready, herbicide-resistant) sugar beets this year. Some of this growth is driven by the push for cheaper ethanol production, as corn used to produce ethanol competes increasingly with corn used to produce sugar or corn syrup.

Consumers and gardeners have two concerns. Over 50% of the sugar produced in the United States comes from sugar beets, and some of these GE beet seed crops are grown in or near the Willamette Valley, where seed crops of many specialty greens, chards and beets are also grown and where transgenic pollen contamination threatens pure seed production. It is already difficult to find pure, clean corn seed; now our beet seed is also endangered. When sugar made from these GE beets appears on grocery shelves and in food products, these foods won’t be labeled as such. (Sugar cane crops have not been genetically engineered.)

The message to eat locally produced foods comes to the forefront over and over. Who is your farmer? How are your foods grown? Where does your sweetener come from, and is it safe? Is your food safe? Is your seed safe?

So once again, to help answer those questions, I am providing recipes using local maple syrup and honey. When substituting honey or maple syrup (or rice syrup) for sugar in a recipe, use one-half to two-thirds cup for every cup of sugar replaced. Organic evaporated cane juice, which is granular and does not impart a stronger flavor, can be used in recipes that rely on the granularity of sugar or would be affected by the stronger flavors of honey or maple syrup. Use the same amount of evaporated cane juice as sugar in the substitution. (And here is the Get Real Get Maine Web address for more recipes using maple syrup:

Lemon Fennel Bread
Makes 2 small loaves.

2 tsp. baker’s yeast
1/2 c. warm water
2 c. whole wheat flour
3-1/2 c. white flour
2 tsp. salt
2 to 4 tsp. fennel seed
1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
1 c. buttermilk, or 1/2 c. plain yogurt and 1/2 c. milk, soy, rice or other such liquid
1/2 c. honey
1 c. water
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. butter

Dissolve the yeast in warm water. Mix the flour, fennel seed, salt and lemon rind in a large bowl. Mix the buttermilk with the honey and add this mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir until partially mixed. Stir the lemon juice and water together and add the yeast, then combine all to make a soft dough. Knead thoroughly, adding tiny, cold chips of butter as the dough becomes more elastic. Knead until the butter becomes absorbed. Place the dough in the bowl, cover and keep it warm while it rises for 1-1/2 hours. Punch down the dough, divide it into two loaves, and place the loaves in two greased loaf pans. Let them rise for an hour or longer, then preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and bake the bread for 40 to 50 minutes.

Honey Citrus Sauce for Fruit Salad
Yields 1-1/4 cups

1/2 c. raw honey
3/4 c. fresh orange or any mix of citrus juice
1 tsp. grated citrus rind
pinch of salt

Beat all ingredients together and chill. Serve with mixed fruit salad or spooned over pear halves.

Sweet-Tart Mustard Dressing
Good for chilled cooked vegetables.

4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
4 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. maple syrup or honey
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together all ingredients. Chill.

Apple Spinach Salad

2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tsp. coarse mustard
2 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup
1 shallot , chopped
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 green apples, shredded
1/2 c. plain yogurt
1/4 c. diced red onion
2-1/2 c. shredded spinach
1 c. sliced radishes

Place the vinegar, mustard, honey, shallot and pepper in a blender. Mix until pureed. With the blender running on high speed, drizzle the oil in slowly to form an emulsion. Mix the yogurt and lemon juice, then add the apple, onion and dressing. Serve on a bed of spinach and radish slices. Serves 4.

Honey-Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 3 dozen.

1 c. natural peanut butter
1 c. honey
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 c. white flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cream the peanut butter and honey together. Stir in the egg and vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients together and stir them into the peanut butter mixture. Drop by the spoonful onto greased cookie sheets. Mash each cookie slightly with the back of a fork, wetting the fork frequently to prevent sticking. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the edges begin to brown.

Maple Roasted Carrots and Parsnips

1 pound carrots and/or parsnips, cut into thin, 3-inch spears
1 Tbsp. organic canola or sunflower oil (Non-organic canola oil is likely made from genetically engineered seeds)
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
chopped fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet. Place the carrots or parsnips in a bowl, drizzle them with oil and toss to mix. Spread them on the baking sheet in a single layer and roast them for 15 minutes. Meanwhile melt the butter into the maple syrup and then drizzle the mixture over the vegetables. Turn the carrots with a spatula and roast them for another 10 minutes, or until tender. Stir to coat the vegetables, then place them in a serving dish. Garnish with parsley or cilantro and serve hot.

Sugar beet seed crops are raised in Oregon, in the same area as related crops – such as garden beets and Swiss chard (shown here). With the advent of genetically – engineered sugar beets, organic growers worry that the Roundup-Ready variety will contaminate other seed crops with the genetically-engineered trait. English photo.

Federal Approval of GE Beets Challenged

On Jan. 23, 2008, farmers, food safety advocates and conservation groups filed suit in federal court challenging the deregulation of genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant, Roundup Ready sugar beets by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Attorneys from the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice are representing plaintiffs Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Center for Food Safety in the lawsuit, which seeks a thorough assessment of environmental, health and associated economic impacts of the deregulation, as required by federal law.

The wind-pollinated GE sugar beets will inevitably cross-pollinate with related crops grown in close proximity, contaminating conventional sugar beets and organic chard and table beet crops.

In addition to the risk of contaminating crops, growing Roundup Ready beets will likely increase use of Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide, as has happened when other Roundup Ready crops have been grown. Increased use of this herbicide helped create Roundup-resistant “super weeds.” According to an independent analysis of USDA data by former Board of Agriculture Chair of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Charles Benbrook, GE crops increased herbicide use 15-fold in the United States, by 122 million pounds, between 1994 (when GE herbicide-tolerant crops were introduced) and 2004.

(Press release, Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, Jan. 23, 2008)

Scroll to Top
Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter of happenings at MOFGA.