It’s not a secret: You probably eat genetically modified food every day. Approximately 80% of packaged foods contain GM ingredients like corn, soy, and canola. It might not even matter. The health effects of GM crops are still very much under debate. Or it might. And if it does turn out that GM ingredients have nasty health effects, they will likely be more harmful in foods that we ingest whole, like fruits and vegetables, than in the processed foods where they are currently found. No one is waiting around to find out. Walmart announced recently that it will sell GM sweet corn created by Monsanto.
The news comes after General Mills, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s all announced that they wouldn’t carry the sweet corn, which is the first consumer product developed by Monsanto. Walmart, on the other hand, is seemingly unconcerned with any potential ramifications. The company explained to the Chicago Tribune: "After closely looking at both sides of the debate and collaborating with a number of respected food safety experts, we see no scientifically validated safety reasons to implement restrictions on this product."
We first wrote about Monsanto’s sweet corn when it was announced last year. At the time, Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety, told us: "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." Bt toxin, a trait found in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide (used on Monsanto corn), has been found in the maternal and fetal blood of pregnant women. No one is quite sure what that means at this point.
The other issue here is that Monsanto’s success securing the world’s largest retailer as a customer (Walmart) could mean that it will continue its work on consumer-facing products—another step toward more GM products with minimal processing. As Freese told us last year, it’s possible that Monsanto is testing the waters with sweet corn.
As of right now, producers in the U.S. don’t have to disclose whether their products contain GM ingredients. That may change soon in California, but for now, it’s an advantage for companies like Monsanto. Consumers might not care if their sweet corn is genetically modified, but there’s no way for them to know.