This week I am very excited to welcome my first guest blogger–Suzanne Rutherford from Brawley, California! Suzanne is a mom, grandma and sugarbeet grower who will share the Sweet Truth about sugar production in the Golden State.
By Suzanne Rutherford
When I tell you I’m from California, your mind’s eye probably envisions the iconic images of Hollywood, Disneyland, and the Golden Gate Bridge. However in reality, we’re just regular folks who work hard, raise healthy children and try to make a better future for our families. California is a large state with an extremely diverse population with one thing in common: we all need to eat and we are picky about what we eat! As a mother, grandmother, and farmer who also spends time grocery shopping, I realize that many people are confused or misinformed about what is in our food. I’d like to provide some answers about one of them: sugar.
I’m Suzanne Rutherford, a native of the Imperial Valley town of Brawley,
California, on the Mexican border. My husband, Curt, and I have one son and two daughters, who along with their terrific spouses have given us eight delightful grandchildren. In our family farming business, we grow sugarbeets as well as durum wheat, Bermuda grass and alfalfa for consumers around the world that have the highest standards for quality. These products are produced on land that was transformed from raw desert into fertile farm ground in the early 1900s, using water delivered by an extensive canal system from the Colorado River some 70 miles away.
Statewide, a diverse agriculture industry generates $46.4 billion for California’s economy through the production of over 400 commodities that are shipped to customers all around the globe. One of those specialty crops, sugarbeets, have been grown in California for over 145 years, with the first successful commercial processing facility being built in Alvarado (now known as Union City) in 1870. In the early 1980s, there were nine sugarbeet processing factories in California. Today, there is just one–the Spreckels Sugar factory in Brawley. On average, the 25,000 acres of sugarbeets grown in the Imperial Valley produce 1,100,000 tons of beets, which translates to 3 million pounds of sugar which is enough sugar to supply all the people in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and a third of San Francisco. Californians can proudly look to us as their “locally grown” supplier of this high quality and essential ingredient.
California farmers are the highest yielding per-acre sugarbeet producers in the world. While achieving the highest possible per-acre yield of a quality crop which meets consumer demand is every farmer’s goal, feeding high quality, healthy food to our family while staying within budget is every mom’s (and grandmother’s!) goal. I happen to overlap into both categories, and I am confident that the sugar we produce is safe for my family to eat–and it’s grown from seed developed through the latest in breeding techniques, including genetic engineering.
Let’s talk about some of the common misconceptions as well as some science-based facts about genetic engineering. Selective breeding of plants and animals has been used for thousands of years, meaning that virtually everything we have ever eaten has been genetically modified. The natural mixing of thousands of genes between male and female plants and animals through natural selection has given us marvelous products we enjoy today. Kale, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are all top choices for healthy eating these days, and all exist due to selective breeding of the wild mustard plant–they are all genetically modified. The corn that my seventh great-grandfather grew in Maryland in the late 1600s would pale in comparison to the lush, full corn kernels of today because over the centuries, farmers developed better varieties in order to increase yield. If you own a cat or a dog, it is most likely a “mix” of different breeds which were bred for specific desirable traits between their parents.
Genetic Engineering (GE) is the process of identifying a specific beneficial gene and precisely inserting that gene into the plant to achieve the desired trait. It is actually precision breeding rather than random breeding.
Many foods, vitamins and medicines we use and consume in our everyday lives are genetically engineered, and so it’s reassuring that groups such as the American Medical Association, The National Academies of Science, the European Commission and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have found there to be no evidence at all that genetically engineered foods pose any risk to humans. Other widely respected groups who are supporters of genetic engineering are the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Academies of Sciences and the Royal Society of Medicine. After looking at the evidence, I trust the conclusion of these esteemed scientists–genetically engineered crops are safe for my family.
With respect to sugar specifically, in independent testing of 44 international samples of white cane sugar, white beet sugar, raw sugar and organic cane sugar, along with multiple tests at all 23 North American sugarbeet factories, it was concluded that sugar is the same regardless of the source. Furthermore, no DNA or biotech protein was found in the sugar samples from genetically engineered sugarbeets. We know precisely where and how they are removed in the processing of the sugarbeet.
From our perspective as farmers, using genetically engineered sugarbeet seed, it provides about two dozen benefits to the environment. Instead of using a combination of 12 herbicides to choose from to battle a broad spectrum of weeds, we only need one that is safer for the environment and the farmers who apply it. With far fewer weeds, we are using our precious California water more efficiently and raising even stronger and healthier plants.
Over the years, it has always been a priority to make sure my family makes healthy food choices, just like moms in San Francisco or Orange County. We love our land and our water, raising healthy plants and helping the environment. We are all exposed to the same advertising and publicity about the latest trends in food and nutrition, and as the primary shoppers, women are responsible for making the food choices for their families. Unfortunately, there are many activists trying to scare people about genetic engineering that has been approved for commercial use. After doing some research, I trust the elite scientific community’s assurance that genetically engineered crops are safe for my grandkids to eat, and safe for us to grow as a food product to be eaten by everyone else’s grandkids as well. Now that I know the truth about genetic engineering, I have one less thing to worry about as I navigate the grocery store aisles.