Duane Grant tells the international sugar community that the debate regarding the safety of GE technology is over.
By Laura Rutherford. Photos courtesy of Taylor Grant.
“Despite intense effort, we had limited success with traditional weed management methods and available herbicide products,” said Grant, who operates 4-D Farms in south central Idaho and serves as chairman of the Snake River Sugar Company.
Agricultural biotechnology has made a dramatic difference at 4-D Farms and every American sugarbeet farm by providing effective weed control, higher yields and benefits to the environment and human health.
Grant’s extensive history with biotech and conventional sugarbeets on his own farm has made him a devoted advocate for agricultural biotechnology. He is a four year stakeholder in the Pew Foundation Initiative for Food and Biotechnology and has served as a grower spokesperson for the Sugar Industry Biotechnology Council since 2007. He is passionate about helping other growers advocate as well, and has spoken about the technology all over the world. On November 17-18, 2015, Grant attended the International Sugar Organization (ISO) seminar in London as a representative for the American Sugarbeet Growers Association (ASGA).
“As U.S. producers, we stand solidly on the side of science and are willing to bet our future competitiveness on the fact that, in the end, truth as documented by the scientific process will win. It always does.” –Duane Grant
At the seminar, Grant participated in a panel discussion about agricultural biotechnology.
“The panel was comprised of sugarbeet producers and industry folks from around the world,” he said. “There was a German sugarbeet scientist, the head for the French Sugarbeet Growers Association, a sugarbeet farmer and head of the Farmers Union for the United Kingdom, a sugarbeet farmer from Chile and myself.”
During the discussion, called “Efficiencies in Beet,” each panelist gave a report on the competitive advantages of sugarbeet growers in their respective areas. In Grant’s presentation, he showed that biotechnology is in fact the key competitive advantage of U.S. producers.
“I presented data showing that the annual trendline yield increase of sugarbeets has doubled in the U.S. since transition to GE seed, and that yield increase has replaced acreage increase as the variable required to meet the steady increase in consumption in the U.S. market,” Grant said. “I also reported that the transition to biotech has reduced the sugarbeet’s impact on the environment and enabled shifting to sustainable minimum tillage practices.”
Grant also shared findings from the American sugarbeet industry’s submission to the National Academy of Sciences, which documents the positive impact of biotech sugarbeets on the environment in 25 distinct ways.
“American sugarbeet growers depend on technology as a competitive edge,” said Grant. “The high cost of labor and attractive alternate crops required that the sugarbeet industry continue to drive sugar and acre yields higher and costs lower. Agricultural biotechnology has placed the U.S. on a trajectory to be the lowest cost and lowest environmental impact producer of sugar in the world.”
Grant said that the main goal of his presentation was to share evidence of the comparatively superior production and efficiency gains realized by North American sugarbeet farmers.
“I wanted to speak to the fact that GE sugarbeets are more environmentally friendly than conventional sugarbeets,” he said. “I also believe that those who fail to catch the biotechnology revolution will become irrelevant on the global stage in the near future.”
Grant feels the international reaction at the panel discussion was one of observation.
“My sense is that all members of the international sugar community recognize the ability of GE traits to increase productivity,” he said. “Some recognize the potential for GE to remake the map in terms of what region will be the most efficient producers of sugar 10 years from now. They are watching the North American experience with interest.”
The panel presentations were followed by heavy discussion and questions for the panelists. Grant was asked if there are other technologies that U.S. producers want to utilize.
“My response was that we are looking forward to the next generation of GE seeds that will offer even more beneficial production advantages,” said Grant. “We want traits such as even better and lower cost weed control, drought and disease resistance and improved storability. These traits are within our grasp.”
Grant was also asked about how the U.S. market has reacted to sugar from biotech sugarbeets, and he explained that there is no such thing as “GMO sugar,” because all refined white sugar, regardless of its source, is the same down to the molecular level.
“Third party tests have established that fact, and the sugarbeet industry has communicated that fact to the market,” he said. “Our sugarbeet refineries are all running at 110 percent, and we are selling 100 percent of the sugar we produce at profitable levels.”
For Grant, the most important part of his experience in London was telling the international sugar community that the debate regarding the safety of GE is over.
“As U.S. producers, we stand solidly on the side of science and are willing to bet our future competitiveness on the fact that, in the end, truth as documented by the scientific process will win. It always does,” he said. “In the United States, farmers are not willing to have groups like Greenpeace tell the public what is good for our farms. We are the experts. We will speak out of truth, and follow that with actions in our fields. We want to own our destiny.”