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Sugar beet



Research Herbicide tolerance
Field trials EU 318
in many countries
Approval EU 1 (2 applications)
USA, Canada, six other countries
Cultivation USA (since 2007), Canada
Characteristics Tolerance to herbicides
Perspectives No cultivation in Europe before 2015



Sugar beet (Beta vulgaris) is grown in regions with a moderate and subtropical climate. The main producing countries are France, Germany, USA and Russia. In 2008, almost 227 million tons of sugar beet were harvested worldwide.

Since the middle of the 18th century sugar beet has been developed to yield a higher sugar content. This increased from originally 7% to about 18% today.

For a long period, sugarcane represented the only plant source of sugar. Today, sugar beet provides about 45% of the world's sugar production.


Sugar beet is the base for different foodstuffs and ingredients:

  • sugar in a range of different forms (granulated sugar, icing sugar, rock sugar, gelling sugar)
  • sugar is used to produce artificial honey (inverted sugar syrup), caramel and caramel colouring which is used as a sugar coloring agent.
  • sugar beet syrup, also known as sugar beet molasses, is a thick syrup containing up to 60% sugar produced from cleaned and boiled beet.

By-products of sugar manufacture:

  • molasses: used as animal feed and in culture media for the biotechnological production of alcohol, citric acidand nutritional yeast
  • sugar beet pulp: animal feed

Energy crops, renewable primary products

  • biofuel ethanol and biomethane
  • sugar as raw material for the chemical and cosmetic industries
  • biodegradable material


Gene technology: aims of research and development

Cultivation characteristics

Weed control

  • herbicide resistance: weeds represent a great problem in cultivation of sugar beet. Usually these are combated by several applications of herbicides. With the utilisation of herbicide-resistant sugar beet and the complementary herbicide controlling weed should be easier, more ecologically friendly and more economical.

Resistance against pathogens

  • virus resistance: in Germany a genetically modified strain of sugar beet was developed in the 1990s, which shows resistance against the rhizomania virus. In the meantime conventionally grown virus-resistant varieties are on the market.

Resistance to pests

Adaptation to climate and location factors

  • tolerance to drought

Product characteristics

Modified composition of components

Renewable primary products

Modified composition

  • production of basic materials for degradable plastics ("bioplastic")

Plant development

  • improvement of processing and storage characteristics


Improvement of processing and storage characteristics

No. of applications 318
Countries France 73, Italy 42, England 43, Spain 38, Netherlands 27, Denmark 26, Germany 25 others in Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Greece, Czech Republic
Period 1992-2010
Characteristics Herbicide tolerance, modified product quality
USA 223
Period 1993-2010
Other countries Canada, Argentina, Japan


Utilisation of GM sugar beet

Approvals in the EU
  For cultivation As foodstuff/feed
Applications 2 1
Approval   1
Characteristics Herbicide tolerance
Approvals worldwide
  For cultivation as foodstuff/feed
USA 3 3
Canada 2 2
Australia   2
Japan 1 3
Korea   1
Philippines   2
Mexico   1
Characteristics herbicide tolerance
Listed are applications/approvals for different strains of GM sugar beet (events).
EU Currently no GM sugar beet grown
USA In 2006, limited cultivation trials in Idaho. Since 2007, commercial cultivation, 2010 on 470,000 ha (95% of total sugar beet acreage).
An US district court revoked the approval of GM sugar beets in August 2010. Additional planting won’t be allowed until the U.S. Department of Agriculture submits further environmental impact statements.

The USA exports sugar beet pulp as animal feed to the EU.

Other countries Canada


An EU Research Project

What are the risks of growing GM crops?

What are the benefits?

Numerous studies have addressed the potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants. Yet the existing evidence on the effects of GM plants is often contradictory and the quality of scientific research varies widely.

Therefore, the GRACE project will establish new tools for assessing the quality of existing studies and will conduct comprehensive reviews to identify health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM plants.

More information


GMO Soybeans & Sustainability

Less soil erosion and fuel consumption: herbicide tolerant soybeans are promoting sustainable cultivation methods.


Glyphosate in European agriculture

Interview with a farmer

Glyphosate containing herbicides are not only used in fields with GM crops. They also allow conventional farmers to sow directly into stubble fields without ploughing. Glyphosate has replaced mechanical weed control in many crops and has had an important impact on agricultural practices and crop yields in Europe over the past few decades.

European Glyphosate Task Force

 GMO Database
GM Food and Feed: Authorization in the EU
GMO Database: Contains information on every GM plant that has been approved or is awaiting authorisation in the EU.
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