Monsanto Plans To Sell Sweet Corn In Your Local Supermarket

There is genetically modified produce in a lot of the processed food you eat, but this is the first time that Monsanto is taking fresh GM produce from the ground straight to your mouth. If it works out, there will be plenty more.

Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, is known for developing engineered crops (i.e. corn and soybeans) that end up in many of the food products found on grocery store aisles, as well as in fibers and animal feed. Up until now, the company's GM crops have only been available in processed foods—in other words, in little bits and pieces. But now Monsanto is making a move into the consumer market with GM sweet corn, which will be found in a supermarket produce bin or farmer's market near you starting this fall.

There  is a good chance you've already eaten GM sweet corn: Syngenta—a Monsanto rival—has been selling it for a decade. And Monsanto already sells GM squash developed by Seminis, which the company bought in 2005. So why is Monsanto's sweet corn a big deal? This is the first consumer product actually developed by Monsanto. While previous industry attempts to introduce GM consumer-oriented vegetables in the 1990s failed miserably (see Calgene's Flavr Savr tomatoes), Monsanto may be warming up to the idea. "I think Monsanto is trying to test the waters here," says Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety. If GM sweet corn works out for the agri-giant, we might see even more GM produce on our supermarket shelves.

Monsanto, which already controls 60% of the U.S. corn market, is including traits in the new sweet corn that make it resistant to both Monsanto's Roundup herbicide and to insects (through the inclusion of Bt toxin, a trait that disrupts insect digestive systems and eventually kills them). As we have mentioned before, at least 21 weed species have become resistant to Roundup. And Bt toxin may have negative health effects—a recent study found the toxin in the maternal and fetal blood of pregnant women, though the implications of that aren't known quite yet.

"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," says Freese. This may be one of the rare cases where processed food is better for you than fresh food.

The market for sweet corn is smaller than the market for grain corn, and up until now GM sweet corn sales have been dominated by Syngenta, which also uses Bt toxin in its product. Now that Monsanto is entering the game, there will be even more room for cross-pollination with non-GM corn crops. "Corn is very promiscuous, meaning it's easy for cross-pollination to occur," says Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at the Pesticide Action Network North America. "Farmers won't be able to access conventional seeds, and they may lose local varieties."

Think that consumers would never buy a Monsanto-branded ear of sweet corn given the company's controversial reputation? Maybe not—but it doesn't matter. A Monsanto representative told the LA Times: "It's up to us to make sure we help tell
people about the benefits...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."

In an email, Monsanto explained to Fast Company that "Food retailers have the latitude to label or not label sweet corn. Just as they do today, consumers will continue to have the ability to purchase corn from growers or retailers of their choice that provide the quality they are looking for."

This may be to Monsanto's advantage, explains Ishii-Eiteman. "There would be a huge negative effect if they said, 'This is Monsanto GM corn.' We won't know which corn is which."

[Image: Wikipedia]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • Reader

    What is the Date of this article???  How can I know if this is new or old information?  Thanks!

  • Spam

    its all part of the global elite's plan towards population control. the food were eating is making more and more people starile, its causing more diseases, and causing more cancer. the economy is a fail by design, and if people dont realize the truth soon, it will be too late.....

  • Joe

    L.A. Mom, I agree with you about the farmer's markets, but here is a scary thing from the article:

    "But now Monsanto is making a move into the consumer market with GM sweet
    corn, which will be found in a supermarket produce bin or farmer's
    market near you starting this fall."

    In our local farmer's markets there is a big problem with people who buy produce in bulk (i.e. not farmers) and then selling it as if it was locally grown. My fear is they will end up with this anyway.

  • susan v

    I sent Walmart my petition about GM Sweet Corn and asked for a response. Below the petition link is the B-S.. response it sent today:

    Sunday, April 1, 2012 2:41 PM

    "Walmart Customer Service" <cstreply@wal-mart.com>Dear Susan,Thank you for your
    recent inquiry. We are proud to offer our customers the widest variety
    of fresh and affordable produce and grocery items. Walmart
    currently does not specifically source foods which have been
    genetically modified. We are committed to the safety and satisfaction of
    our customers and we will continue to follow all federal and state
    regulations to ensure that our food is safe and of the highest quality.The
    reality is that for some agricultural commodities, large portions of
    crops in production worldwide are genetically enhanced through
    biotechnology or conventional plant-breeding methods. It’s important to
    note that there is no regulatory requirement in the U.S. to label foods
    as biotech, nor is the sale of foods containing a biotech ingredient
    prohibited. Walmart requires that all of our suppliers be in strict
    compliance with all labeling and disclosure laws.To learn more about biotechnology, you may consider visiting one of the following websites for more information:• FDA Webpage on Biotechnology http://www.fda.gov/Food/Biotec...
    • USDA APHIS Webpage on Biotechnology http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biot...
    • National Academy of Sciences – Technology to Feed the World http://www.nationalacademies.o...
    Again, thank you for your inquiry and we look forward to serving you in the future.Sincerely,Walmart Customer CareFor further correspondence regarding this issue, please reply to this email.

  • L.A. Mom

    There is a basic trust that consumers have, when buying produce from our local supermarkets.  After work, as we run into the grocery store  to buy some last minute foods for dinner, we trust that the "healthy" produce is just that, "healthy".
    Although it is up to us, the consumer, to know what we are buying and feeding our children, the grocery chains need to step up to the plate (no pun intended) and stop selling foods that are not proven safe.  
    I guess it's off to Whole Foods more often, and the Farmer's Market.  It costs more, yes, but I'd rather do without new shoes or a night out, than feed my child Monsanto's poison.

  • Kimberly L. Mooney

    Why would we want to eat corn that shuts down the vital organs in rats?