Many news sources have reported over the past couple of months how Monsanto Co., the world's biggest vegetable seed-maker, will begin selling biotech, or genetically engineered, sweet corn this fall for U.S. consumers.
There are at least three alarming aspects to this particular veggie-gene mutation and its distribution.
First, if you wonder why the sweet corn's genes are being triple-altered, wonder no more. Bloomberg reported that "the sweet corn seeds are engineered to kill insects living above and below ground and to tolerate applications of the company's Roundup herbicide, Consuelo Madere, Monsanto vice president for vegetables, told reporters at company headquarters in St. Louis." In short, this is the first time seeds have been genetically modified to allow farmers to spray their fields with Monsanto's Roundup.
Madere added that though Monsanto is presently in dialogue with companies that can and freeze corn, the new sweet corn seeds will at first target the 250,000-acre market for fresh corn in the eastern U.S. (roughly 40 percent of the sweet corn market).
Second, corn is used in more products than any other type of produce, though admittedly, much is grain corn. For those who think they can merely avoid corn-based products, consider that out of the 10,000 or so items in an average grocery, roughly 2,500 use corn in some aspect of content or production, according to the Ontario Corn Producers' Association.
Consider just the ABCs of corn -- that is, some of the products that begin with the letter A, B or C and utilize corn. Ready? You're going to be surprised. They are adhesives (glues, pastes, etc.); aluminum; antibiotics (penicillin); asbestos insulation; aspirin; automobiles (wheels and tires, cylinder heads, ethanol fuel, windshield washer fluid, spark plugs); baby food; batteries; breakfast cereals; candies; canned vegetables; carbonated beverages; cheese spreads; chewing gum; chocolate products; coatings on wood, paper and metal; corn chips (of course); cosmetics; crayons; chalk; and instant coffee. Imagine what D-Z might contain!
Third, the science of genetic food tampering is still spurious at best and hazardous at worst.
A plethora of reports have been published to show the potential dangers to not only crops and the environment but also humans. The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, reported in 2010, "According to the research, animals fed on three strains of genetically modified maize created by the U.S. biotech firm Monsanto suffered signs of organ damage after just three months."
Despite tests that prove genetically altered organisms in crops become a part of the bacteria in our digestive tracts and the fact that polls show that the American public wants more labels on foods that utilize genetically engineered, or GE, ingredients in their production, the U.S. Department of Agriculture now wants to eliminate any controls from genetically altered corn and cotton. The Los Angeles Times reported a short time ago that the Obama administration has approved an "unprecedented number of genetically modified crops," such as ethanol corn, alfalfa and sugar beets.
Food & Water Watch warned in a recent letter: "Monsanto's sweet corn variety flew through the approval process, because it combines two genetically engineered traits that were approved in 2005 and 2008. The USDA does no independent testing of GE crops, and the 'stacked' combination of these traits for herbicide resistance, and pesticide production has never been through a safety evaluation of any kind."
Most alarming to me are the hazardous warnings offered by those like the late George Wald, Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine and one of the first scientists to speak out about the dangers of GE foods:
"Recombinant DNA technology (genetic engineering) faces our society with problems unprecedented, not only in the history of science, but of life on the Earth. ... Now whole new proteins will be transposed overnight into wholly new associations, with consequences no one can foretell, either for the host organism or their neighbors. ... Going ahead in this direction may not only be unwise but dangerous. Potentially, it could breed new animal and plant diseases, new sources of cancer, novel epidemics."
Again, if Monsanto's own confession is that "the sweet corn seeds are engineered to kill insects living above and below ground and to tolerate applications of the company's Roundup herbicide," what exactly will the long-term effect be upon humans?
Answer: We don't know. But you can bet we will in due time.
Fourteen states have introduced legislation on genetically modified organism labeling, but most face governmental gridlock. So please take action and keep foods safe (non-genetically engineered) by contacting your representatives and demanding that genetically modified food be labeled as such.
The Center for Food Safety, another great watchdog organization, offers a new and free "True Food Shopper's Guide" download on its website and even a mobile application for smartphones to help you avoid GE ingredients wherever you shop. Go to http://TrueFoodNow.org.
And help make sure GE sweet corn is not sold in your local grocery by signing FWW's petition. The group will be delivering the petition to the top 10 grocery chains in the country in the pursuit of stopping GE sweet corn from reaching your plate. Go to http://www.FoodAndWaterWatch.org.
Incidentally, Madere told the LA Times that Monsanto doesn't expect much consumer outcry.
I guess she doesn't know about my culture warrior column and its readers!