Sugar faces unique challenges in sustainability.

DANA POINT, CALIF. — Unique challenges have slowed progress in the sugar industry’s sustainability efforts relative to some other ingredients, but panelists at the International Sweetener Colloquium in Dana Point on Feb. 27 noted that progress was being made and urged the industry to keep efforts moving forward.

Kevin Ogorzalek, director of impact partnerships at Bonsucro, a non-profit, international group that promotes and certifies sustainable sugar cane, said sustainability was an emerging requirement for sales. It involves environmental, social and economic issues and collaboration, he said. For the supply chain, it involves transparency, assurance and traceability.

Kevin Ogorzalek, Bonsucro
Kevin Ogorzalek, director of impact partnerships at Bonsucro,

“There’s not a great deal of traceability in U.S. sugar,” Mr. Ogorzalek said.

Rafael Vaya, director of corporate responsibility at American Sugar Refining, said sustainability “is good business,” adding that customers want to see continuous improvement but realize it’s a slow process.

“Sustainability means our business will be there in the future,” Mr. Vaya said. In many countries sugar plays a vital role in the national economy, and high-risk countries require additional time and effort in the sustainability process, he said.

Rebecca Larson, Western Sugar
Rebecca Larson, Ph.D., vice-president and chief scientist at Western Sugar Cooperative

While most sustainability certification efforts involve cane sugar, Rebecca Larson, Ph.D., vice-president and chief scientist at Western Sugar Cooperative, said sugar beet farmers have long been practicing sustainability because of their “multigenerational commitment to the ground.” She said bioengineered crops, which include nearly all sugar beets grown in the United States that are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (also known as “Roundup Ready”), contribute to sustainability by increasing yields and requiring fewer passes over the field, which ultimately releases less carbon from the soil, uses less fossil fuel and requires less water.

There are huge misconceptions about G.M.O.s, she added, noting that 82% of G.M.O. messages are negative.

Non-GMO Project verified sugar
Non-GMO Project is the fastest growing brand.

“Non-GMO Project is the fastest growing brand,” she said. “G.M.O. is not something in your food. It allows farmers to farm better. G.M.O.s are completely safe and key to sustainability.”

Ms. Larson said farmers are “coming late to the table” to tell the G.M.O. story, which fits with consumers' desires for food that is affordable, that the family will like and eat and that provides an environmental benefit.