Food and Technology Blog

New study: GMO sweet corn rare in U.S. supermarkets

Posted Nov. 14, 2013 / Posted by: Adam Russell

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A first-of-its-kind investigation to look for genetically modified sweet corn in the United States has yielded surprising results: Monsanto’s (NYSE: MON) first direct-to-consumer product, a genetically engineered sweet corn, appears to be a flop in the U.S. market.

In 2011, Monsanto began selling seeds for Seminis® Performance Series™ sweet corn, a “stacked trait” product genetically engineered to contain an insecticide and withstand herbicides. Friends of the Earth set out to investigate how far the corn had penetrated the market by 2013.

“We wanted to know if the sweet corn we were feeding our families this summer was the same corn on the cob we’ve always eaten, or if it was Monsanto’s new GMO corn that has never been in the food supply before. Since GMOs aren’t required to be labeled, the only way to find out was to test it,” said Lisa Archer, Food and Technology Program director at Friends of the Earth.

Over a four month period, Friends of the Earth tested 71 samples of fresh, frozen and canned sweet corn from eight areas in a nationwide sample, using a highly sensitive strip-testing method designed to detect the presence of proteins expressed in genetically modified corn plant tissue. Positive samples were confirmed at an accredited independent lab. The analysis found:

Only two corn samples out of 71 (2.4 percent) tested positive as genetically engineered. Both were confirmed to be Monsanto Seminis® Performance Series™ sweet corn.

Monsanto’s GMO sweet corn was purchased at City Market in Breckenridge, Colorado, and Stop & Shop in Everett, Massachusetts. The corn from Everett was grown in Ontario, Canada, while the Breckenridge corn was of unknown origin.

No GMO sweet corn was found in samples purchased in Washington State, California, Illinois, Vermont, Washington, D.C. or Oregon, or in other stores in Colorado or Massachusetts. Samples purchased at Walmart  stores in Seattle and Denver tested negative, despite the store’s stated intention to sell GMO sweet corn. 

“Monsanto’s genetically engineered sweet corn appears to be a big flop in the United States. Food companies here are starting to reject genetically engineered foods, and rightly so. They know their customers, particularly parents, are leery of unlabeled, poorly studied GMOs,” Archer said.

General Mills, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have said they will not sell or use genetically engineered sweet corn. Last week, McDonald’s and Gerber said they don’t plan to use a new GMO apple, currently pending approval, that is genetically engineered to resist browning. A new GMO salmon engineered with the genes of an ocean pout to grow faster has been rejected by numerous major supermarket chains in the U.S., including Target, Trader Joe’s and Aldi, representing nearly 5,000 stores nationwide.

Amid increasing rejection of GMOs in the U.S., there are signs that Monsanto may be focusing its new genetically engineered sweet corn on the Canadian market.

A recent sweet corn study by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, conducted using similar methods as the U.S. study, found that 15 of 43 sweet corn samples (35 percent) tested positive as genetically engineered. The GMO corn was found at the major Canadian grocery chain Loblaw as well as some smaller grocery stores, farmers markets, and roadside stands.

“Our testing clearly shows that genetically engineered sweet corn is present across Canada, from all types of vendors,” said Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. “We were alarmed to find a significant amount of GM sweet corn in Canada, and are shocked that Canada could actually be a source of genetically engineered sweet corn to U.S. consumers.”

Lisa Archer noted that Friends of the Earth spent about $2,000 on the U.S. corn-testing project. “Obviously most shoppers can’t send their food to a lab to figure out what they’re eating,” she said. “We have a right to know if the corn we’re feeding our kids has been genetically engineered to contain an insecticide. We need mandatory GMO labels now.”

Unlike most industrialized countries of the world, the United States and Canada do not require labels on genetically engineered foods.

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Contact:
Stacy Malkan, (510) 542-9224, stacydmalkan@gmail.com
Adam Russell, (202) 222-0722, arussell@foe.org

Also see:
Friends of the Earth analysis: Multi-state investigation finds GMO sweet corn is rare in U.S. stores, plus table of products tested. Lab results available upon request.

Press release: McDonald’s, Gerber say no to GMO apple

Press release: Target, Giant Eagle, H-E-B, Meijer say no to genetically engineered salmon

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network press release, 10/23/13: Tests Discover Unlabelled GM Sweet Corn in Canadian Grocery Stores and Farmer’s Markets

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