Transgenic sugar beets increase GMO concerns with yeast

Later this year, sugar from genetically modified sugar beets will be used in food products, such as cereals and candies, raising concerns among consumer groups who threaten to boycott products made by Kellogg’s and Hershey’s over the issue.

Less well known is the fact that the introduction of GM sugar beets also increases GMO concerns with conventional yeast, which is used in baking and wine and beer production. Yeast is grown on a molasses medium derived from sugar beets, corn syrup, or sugar cane. Two of those three raise GMO concerns since the majority of sugar beets and corn grown in the United States is genetically modified.

According to a yeast industry expert who preferred to remain anonymous, conventional yeast itself is not currently genetically modified nor produced using a GM microorganism.

However, Canada-based Functional Technologies Corporation has developed a GM yeast, ML01, for use in wine production. The product has received regulatory approval in the US and Canada.

The expert said there are five companies that produce conventional yeast, and one produces it using a molasses medium derived from corn syrup.

“Historically companies have used a combination of sugar beet and sugar cane derived molasses, but they prefer to use sugar beet molasses,” the expert said.

Organic evaluation may vary among certifiers
According to the National Organic Program rules, conventional yeast is a non-organic, non-synthetic substance allowed as an ingredient in organic products.

Miguel Guerrero, marketing director and review coordinator at Organic Materials Review Institute, says that evaluation of yeast in organic processing may vary among organic certifiers. Some would only look at the finished product to make sure it is not produced from a GM microorganism and that it does not contain synthetic substances. Others would also look at the media on which it was grown.

Oregon Tilth would do the latter, says Connie Karr, processing program manager. “We would also look at the media to make sure it is non-GMO,” she says.

Karr says that more organic processors are using organic yeast in their products to avoid trying to obtain non-GMO verification from yeast manufacturers. “The use of organic yeast is becoming more prevalent,” she says.

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report October 2008