Friday, March 4, 2016 - For decades, the Hershey Co. has used sugar made from both sugar beets and sugar cane, but it decided earlier in 2015 to stop buying beet sugar because it comes from genetically modified seeds that some consumers don’t like.
David Berg, president and CEO of American Crystal Sugar in Moorhead, Minn., the nation’s largest sugar beet co-op, told members gathered in Fargo, N.D., that the anti-GM movement is one of the industry’s biggest challenges. Hershey communications director Jeff Beckman confirmed that the kisses and many other products stocked on shelves since Halloween no longer contain beet sugar. The company also is transitioning away from artificial to natural ingredients.
“More than three-quarters of the sugar we are using today is cane sugar” which is not genetically modified, he said, “and as we get into 2016, our expectation is to be at or near 100 percent.”
Beckman said the sourcing switch has nothing to do with the safety of beet sugar, and the company’s website contains references to numerous scientific groups that have concluded that GM sugar is safe to consume. “This is really just a matter of listening to and being responsive to what consumers want us to put into their products,” he said.
Minnesota is the top sugar beet producer in the nation, followed by Idaho and North Dakota, About 55 percent of domestic U.S. sugar is produced from sugar beets, and nearly 100 percent of the beet seeds are genetically modified to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate.
Hershey is the only national brand that has dropped beet sugar. If other companies follow Hershey, sugar beet growers would be hard pressed to get non-GM seed as the supply of seed that is not genetically modified is extremely outdated. Raising non-GM sugar beets is thus not seen as an option in the near future.
Hershey, with 2014 sales of $7.4 billion and more than 80 brands of candy sold around the world, was a huge customer for beet sugar farmers.