A study conducted by environmental organization Friends of the Earth found fresh corn purchased July 17 at the Breckenridge City Market was a genetically engineered product created by Monsanto, an agricultural biotechnology corporation.
A genetically modified organism is a product, like corn, for which the genetic makeup has been altered, often to create greater resistance to insects.
The GMO corn is Monsanto’s first direct-to-consumer product; they began selling the Seminis Performance Series seeds in 2011. The corn is engineered to contain an insecticide and withstand herbicides.
Stacy Malkan, who served as the media director for California Proposition 37, which would have required mandatory GMO food labeling, worked on the Friends of the Earth study. She said because GMOs aren’t required to be labeled, the only way to find out if the corn had penetrated the market was to test it.
“We just wanted to know if this was the same corn we’ve been eating all our lives, or this new corn,” she said. “Going through the testing process is the only way to know. It’s crazy that we have to go through so much just to know what’s in our food.”
During a four month period from June to September this year, Friends of the Earth tested 71 samples of fresh, frozen and canned sweet corn from eight areas in a nationwide sample, using a strip-testing method designed to detect the presence of proteins found in GMO corn plant tissue. An independent lab also confirmed the two positive samples using DNA testing.
“Buying organic is really the only way to avoid GMOs,” Malkan said. “It appears there’s not much GMO Monsanto corn as of now. But there’s a lot of stores we didn’t test, and there’s no way to know.”
The other GMO corn was found at Stop & Shop in Everett, Mass. 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., 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.
“We were surprised, we thought we would find more,” Malkan said. “There’s no indicator of where it might show up, it’s very random. Growers don’t have to label GMOs, so stores don’t really have a way of knowing either.”
Breckenridge resident Shanan Cox was shopping at City Market on Wednesday, Nov. 27 and said she never buys corn anymore because of this issue. Cox grows her own vegetables at the community garden.
“I’m not into that genetically modified stuff,” she said. “I think they’re trying to slip it under the radar.”
Grocery stores General Mills, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have said they will not sell GMO corn. McDonald’s and Gerber said they don’t plan to use a new GMO apple, currently pending approval, that is engineered to resist browning. A new GMO salmon engineered to grow faster has been rejected by a number of supermarkets in the U.S., including Target, Trader Joe’s and Aldi.
Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth, said in a prepared statement: “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.”
However, there are signs that Monsanto may be focusing its new GMO sweet corn in 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 and farmers markets.
Friends of the Earth spent about $2,000 on the U.S. corn-testing project. Malkan said shoppers can’t send their food to a lab to figure out what they’re eating, which is why labeling is important.
Unlike many countries, the United States and Canada do not require labels on genetically engineered foods. However, in Colorado, recently introduced House Bill 13-1192 concerns GMO labeling in the state.
Registered Dietitian Cheryl Gray has been working on the campaign to get a GMO-labeling law, and said proponents will start gathering signatures in February to try to get the issue on the November 2014 ballot.
“We’re really test subjects,” she said. “It’s this massive experiment. Without testing, labeling, knowing more, we can’t identify what our food is anymore.”
Malkan said Friends of the Earth plans to continue to test corn in the market to see how far the corn penetrates the market.
“We’re seeing a direct correlation between allergies and specific conditions and the introduction of GMO foods,” Gray said. “We’re one of the only countries not labeling, that’s kind of embarrassing. State by state, we have to move forward and create more awareness.”
Colorado City Market representative Kelli McGannon could not be reached for comment.