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Genetically Engineered, Glyphosate-Tolerant Sweet Corn to Hit the Shelves

(Beyond Pesticides, August 9, 2011) Genetically engineered sweet corn designed to both fight off insects and tolerate Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide is set to enter the market this fall, marking a first for engineered produce in the U.S. by the company. This is the first consumer product developed by Monstanto that will go straight from the farm to the consumer’s plate, rather than first being processed into animal feed, sugars, oils, fibers and other ingredients found in a wide variety of conventional food. The new seeds, which will be available to farmers this fall, will target the relatively small market of 250,000 acres of sweet corn grown that is grown for human consumption, however, many environmentalists worry that if this proves profitable for Monsanto we may see more varieties of GE fruits and vegetables at the grocery store.

“There’s a concern with these GE crops that we eat with minimal processing [like sweet corn]…we’re exposed to a lot more of whatever is in it versus a processed corn product,” said Bill Freese, a science policy analyst at Center for Food Safety in an interview with Fast Company. A study earlier this year found that pregnant women and their fetuses were contaminated with pesticides associated with GE food. Last year, researchers in France found that GE crops had numerous adverse health effects in lab rats.

This drastic increase in herbicide use has significant consequences for the future of agriculture, too. Just last week, we reported on the new studies documenting that at least 21 different species of weeds are found to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.

Contrary to common claims from chemical manufacturers and proponents of GE technology that the proliferation of herbicide tolerant genetically (GE) crops would result in lower pesticide use rates, the data show that overall use of pesticides has remained relatively steady, while glyphosate use has skyrocketed to more than double the amount used just five years ago. The recently released 2010 Agricultural Chemical Use Report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reports that the use of glyphosate has dramatically increased over the last several years, while the use of other even more toxic chemicals, such as atrazine, has not declined.

Glyphosate is a general herbicide used for eradication of broadleaf weeds. It has been linked to a number of serious human health effects, including increased cancer risk and neurotoxicity, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. One of the inert ingredients in product formulations of Roundup, polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA), kills human embryonic cells. It is also of particular concern due to its toxicity to aquatic species as well as instances of serious human health effects from acute exposure.

Perhaps most concerning is that once the product hits the shelf, consumers will have little, if any, choice in whether they purchase or eat Monsanto’s sweet corn. There are no current regulations for labeling genetically engineered food. And, according to the LA Times, the company will not be using the Monsanto brand to advertise their new line of corn:

“We think it is a good product. It’s up to us to make sure we help tell people about the benefits,” vice president of Monsanto’s global vegetable business, Consuelo Madere, told the paper. “Given how sweet corn is normally sold -– by the ear, in larger bins in produce sections of the market –- it’s not really something that can be easily branded.”

The one sure-fire way you can avoid the GE sweet corn is to buy organic or know where your food comes from. Genetically modified crops are not permitted in organic food. Unlike chemically intensive agriculture and genetically engineered food, researchers continue to discover the environmental and health benefits of eating and growing organic food. For more information about why organic is the right choice see our Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience guide.

Sources: Care 2, Reuters, Fast Company, Bloomberg


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