August 1, 2013 at 2:34 pm

40 Tons of GE Sugar Beets Destroyed in Oregon – FBI Investigates

Genetically modified foods are a divisive topic.

Some farmers love them while others say that the crops have caused them to go into massive debt. Consumers generally don’t understand what a modified food is much less if it’s safe to eat. Corporations enjoy the profits of a multi-billion dollar industry. Anti-GMO activists are suspicious of them, the companies that produce and sell them, and the unknowns of a food source with too little testing behind it.

In the midst of a national sweep of GMO labeling campaigns, there are also more violent protests. In early June, just two weeks after GE wheat was found mysteriously growing in an Oregon field, 40 tons of sugar beets were destroyed in Jackson County – an area in Eastern Oregon.

For those who are used to purchasing beets by the pound, 40 tons is equivalent to the entire acreage of two full fields of sugar beet crops.

This case is currently being investigated by the FBI. Paul Minehart, head of corporate communications in North America for Syngenta, the company who owned and operated the field said, “It doesn’t look like a vehicle was used. It looks like people entered the field and destroyed the plants by hand.”

Though official cost of these damages are not being released, an FBI spokeswoman said that financial losses are significant.

Sugar beets like these were destroyed in June.[USDA - flickr]

Sugar beets like these were destroyed in June.
[USDA – flickr]

It’s unlikely that a protest of this magnitude was carried out by one individual causing groups like the Earth Liberation Front (who set fire to the agriculture building at the University of Michigan in 2000) to come under suspicion. According to speculation by an article on Real Farmacy, the timing of this event and the fact that no group has claimed this action could mean that farmers themselves were behind it.

There is some history of tension between local conventional and organic growers and the Syngenta sugar beet plot, said an article on Oregon Live. Farmers feared their crops being contaminated by GE beet pollen entering their fields. Together they gathered enough signatures to get a 2014 ballot measure to ban GMO plants entirely.

A series of meetings between local farmers and Syngenta representatives ultimately ended in disarray after corporate representatives left, citing lack of cooperation. A few days later, the first of two GE beet fields had been destroyed.

As consumers continue to balk at the thought of genetically modified foods, it will only cause further tension between conventional and GE farmers. An organic grower may not be able to sell his crops if people don’t want to risk contamination and aren’t able to test every plant for GE pollen.

This may be the first of such destructive acts against a United States genetically engineered crop in a long time but if the controversy over labeling continues, it’s unlikely to be the last.

-Tove K. Danovich