"Blood Beets" Could Help Save Thousands

Sugar deal a work in progress

Published in the January 2015 Issue Published online: Jan 04, 2015 Allen Thayer
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A new study points to a possible medical use for sugarbeets.

Squeezing blood from turnips is impossible. It might not be a stretch for a beet though. Well maybe not blood, but at least a replacement for its use during an emergency.

According to research by a team of Swedish scientists at Lund University, the sugarbeet plant contains a molecule similar to hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. The hemoglobin concentration in the blood is a key parameter in transfusion medicine: if too low, the patient needs a transfusion.

Blood is not always adequately available for hospitals and emergency services. This is why scientists are looking for suitable substitutes to take the place of hemoglobin in blood to carry oxygen in the body.

Experts believe that within three years they could develop a way to “wrap” the hemoglobin in sugarbeets in a form that is compatible with human blood, and which does not cause dangerous adverse effects. The first step in a long process is testing sugarbeet hemoglobin in animals.

With the holiday season now behind us, it’s worth a look at this report published last November in the journal Plant and Cell Physiology. Growers can learn about this aspect of beets on page 28.

Meanwhile work proceeds on the sugar dispute between the United States and Mexico. The two nations on Oct. 27 agreed to avoid antidumping and countervailing duties on U.S. sugar imports from Mexico. The deal includes minimum prices for raw and refined sugar imports as well as volume and timing restrictions.

It’s expected that the suspension agreements will be finalized. But that possible outcome has its critics. Take, for example, the stance of the American Bakers Association.

“Any further controls placed on sugar supplies are not good for bakers or all other sugar users,” said Robb MacKie, ABA president and chief executive officer. “Apparently an 85 percent monopoly in the U.S. sugar market is not enough for domestic sugar producers. Their motives are simple—to create a 100 percent monopoly on sugar supplies in the U.S. It is a shame t he federal government is such an enabler of this grab.”

But campaigns by food manufacturers and their allies against U.S. sugar policy is not new.

More problematic could be the deal’s impact on big cane refiners, including the maker of household brand Domino Sugar. These refiners might be the biggest losers, because the deal could choke off imports of raw sugar from Mexico.

The pact setting quotas and prices on Mexican sugar imports for the first time appeared to be the best possible outcome to a months-long dispute that had threatened to escalate into an all-out trade war.

Facing global refined prices languishing at multi-year lows and a market that has been in surplus for years, U.S. sugar producers accused Mexico in March of flooding the heavily protected U.S. market with cheap, subsidized refined sugar and called for penalties on imports.

Domino, the top U.S. refiner, is owned by ASR Group, which is the only cane processor that signed onto that case.

Important issues must be resolved before agreement is reached on the final pact.

Sugar industry officials are confident in the strength of their antidumping and countervailing duty cases if an ag reement cannot be reached.