This fall, a genetically modified sweet corn was introduced to farmers. Sweet corn is the variety that we eat right off the cob, in cans or frozen, versus other varieties of corn that are used in animal feed and ingredients commonly found in processed foods, like corn syrup.
Unlike traditional plant breeding, which combines the traits of plants and animals of the same species, the genetic modification of food means the DNA of one species, such as a fish, is injected into a completely unrelated species, like a tomato.
Genetically modified foods (GMOs) have been around since the mid-‘90s and their prevalence is growing, as we see with the introduction of this new GMO sweet corn. In 1996, 7% of soybeans and 1% of corn were genetically modified; today 94% of soybeans and 88% of corn are. Certified organic foods cannot be produced using GMOs.
While they are already in the majority of processed foods in the form of ingredients like corn syrup and soybean oil, not much research has been done on the long-term health and environmental impacts of GMOs, and the studies that have been conducted find the potential health risks to include endocrine disruption, organ damage, decreased fertility, and increased allergies.
Biotechnology firms tout the potential for genetically modified foods (GMOs) to include beneficial traits like drought resistance and even the ability to build-in nutrients and disease-fighting traits, but the overwhelming majority of these crops on the market today don’t have any of these positive attributes. Most are engineered only to resist pesticides and herbicides.
Ironically, GMO crops usually require more pesticides and herbicides than non-GMO crops. Superweeds have evolved that are resistant to the herbicides used on them, which means more chemicals must be sprayed on these crops to fight these more powerful weeds. Studies show that these chemicals can damage ecosystems and could even lead to neurological problems in people.
This new GMO sweet corn combines three genetically modified traits intended to fight off pests and be resistant to weed-killing chemicals. These traits are “stacked” on top of each other in the DNA of the sweet corn. Although the traits were approved individually, no tests have been done to determine what the health impacts of stacking the traits might be.
GMO sweet corn could wind up in canned, frozen and fresh corn-in-the-cob on grocery store shelves as early as next year. And, since it looks just like regular sweet corn, shoppers won’t know whether the corn they’re buying is GMO because labeling is not required.
Recently, my organization and our allies gathered nearly 300,000 signatures from consumers asking the largest grocery stores and food processors in the country to refuse to sell GMO sweet corn. These companies have a financial incentive to keep it off their shelves because public opinion polls show that more than half of American consumers would choose not to buy it and a vast majority of those asked want mandatory labeling.
Although they are prevalent in the US food supply, humans have only been eating GMOs for a short period of time, so we don’t know how they will impact our health and environment over the long term. But just as sodium and sugar are required to be on packaged food labels, so should GMOs be labeled to help consumers make informed choices about the food we’re feeding our families.
No matter how you feel about GMOs, everyone should support a consumer’s right to information about the food we eat.