Fast Company

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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16 Comments

  • C.T. Moore

    I do need to say that I am concerned as a gardener that I can't get this Bt sweet corn without the resistance to herbicide glyphosate (Roundup). But, as far as the natural insecticide being bred into it from what has been used for many years in organic farming instead of checmical insecticides, I prefer those pretty ears of sweet corn (no ear worms or borers) resulting from Bt than from those restricted-use pesticides that otherwise would be sprayed on the silks directly.

  • JanetHudgins

    There is no way to tell what they are selling so you have to start with the store manager and insist that they sell organic as well so that we have a choice. That's up to us. We can put Monsanto out of business if we really make this happen.

  • LoriB

    "Uneducated" is the key word here.  If you are too stupid to care about what corporations are poisoning you with, you are too stupid to produce offspring.  Eat up morons and natural selection will takes its course.  My family is 100% organic or home grown. If it costs too much, we dont eat it!  Trying to strengthen the gene pool over here. 

  • Michael Stein

    Anybody that thinks this is not something to be concerned about it is just uneducated. Seriously people wake up. It's not like you eat corn and will suddenly drop dead.. it's a slow process that will manipulate the "natural" bacteria in your intestinal flora. If you don't understand what I just said, you really have no business commenting here.

    How about the dramatic increase in food born illnesses within the last few years? Or antibiotic resistant salmonella.. it's just amazing to me that people who have no clue, actually think their opinion is valid. They don't get just how much harm they spread with their ignorance.

  • Richard G

    GM seeds are banned in Hungary, as they are in several other European countries, such as Germany and Ireland. These countries have chosen NOT to allow their people to be used as guinea pigs in a massive experiment on the food supply, which is essentially what the introduction of GM crops is. Although Monsanto, the world leader in GM seeds, insists that GM foods are no different from conventionally grown varieties, the research in existence begs to differ. For more:http://articles.mercola.com/si...

  • Tootangy4u2c

    @ Maria - Wow, you are so right! In the last couple of years we have seen these viruses that are super resistant to the anti-biotics that could once cure or tame them.  I think that for many of us who have seen, witnessed, heard or read about everything that is going on with our foods and the implementations GM has actually had on our bodies.......paranoid is not even the word to describe what is crossing our minds when we read about Monsanto coming out with such a product. Thanks!

  • Rick Goeld

    GM Foods continue to proliferate. The fact that "nothing bad has happened yet" is no excuse for continuing to use the general population as guinea pigs for any kind of experiment Big Agra wants to try. What happens when more and more foods, with more and more gene modifications, hit the market? Check out http://www.SLSNovel.com for more info, and the novel "Sex, Lies, and Soybeans."

  • Jean.Luc.Levasydas

    Monsanto, which already controls 60% of the U.S. corn market. Tomorrow 80%   and the consequences ??

  • Maria

    Don't be too sure people aren't getting sick. There is an explosion of allergies AND auto-immune type illness popping up through this country.They're only link is the genetic modification of these grains, to include corn. European countries will not allow this genetically modified food into they're food chains and Monsanto has not had to prove to this country any link to these illnesses one way or the other. I know, I know, paranoid?! Well do me a favor and disprove me!

  • Chad

    I sure hope it finds its way to microwave popcorn. Nothing tastier than sweet-corn microwave popcorn. Plus the combination of GM and Microwaves will surely give me super powers.

    Seriously, the author is a fear-monger quoting idiots with apparently no facts behind them. Who needs facts when you have FUD.

  • Tootangy4u2c

    I understand that these types of products have been in the market for years and no one has died or gotten sick as far as I know, but it is so scary to know that our foods are being created in labs, versus grown the old natural way, good soil, enough sun, water and great farmers.  :(

  • Les Moor

    Monsanto is the antiChrist for small farmers.  Their patented nonsense shows up in fields where it it not supposed to be and Monsanto screws the farmers.  Canadian flax crops have been contaminated by a GM variant, the GM variant being declared illegal, and crops sent to 35 different countries where they were ordered destroyed with the farmers being responsible.  When do we say no to this kind of nonsense where big corporations run roughshod over the world?

  • ajkmsteph

    don't forget papaya fruit that is mainly GM virus resistant. The fact is there is nothing harmful about this food its been used for 12 years or more without a single sickness or death due to it so quit worrying

    Sweet corn is normally sprayed many times to protect against insect damage or much of it is thrown away. Bt corn needs no spraying and less is thrown away that is beneficial