Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Sweet Corn a Flop?

Friends of the Earth set out to investigate how far the genetically modified corn had penetrated the market by 2013. Photo credit: Shutterstock

A genetically engineered sweet corn that is biotech giant Monsanto’s first direct-to-consumer product appears to be a flop in the U.S. market, says a first-of-its-kind investigation. 

For four months beginning last June, 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.

Friends of the Earth set out to investigate how far the genetically modified corn had penetrated the market by 2013. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Friends of the Earth set out to investigate how far the genetically modified sweet corn had penetrated the market by 2013. Photo credit: Shutterstock

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, a stacked trait product genetically engineered to resist insects and withstand herbicides. Seeds for the Seminis sweet corn have been on the market since 2011.

Since food producers are not required to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the only way to find out if a food contains GMOs is to test it.

Monsanto’s GMO sweet corn was purchased at City Market in Breckenridge, CO, and Stop & Shop in Everett, MA. 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, 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,” said Lisa Archer, Food and Technology Program director at Friends of the Earth. “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.” 

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.

The genetically engineered sweet corn is the first product developed by Monsanto that goes straight from the farm to the consumer’s plate, rather than first being converted into animal feed, sugars, oils, fibers and other ingredients found in a wide variety of processed food.

Until now, Monsanto’s GMOs have been commodity crops for processed food and animal feed. U.S. livestock are fed genetically engineered crops—a practice in place since these crops were first introduced in 1996. Each of the top six GMO crops—soy, cotton, corn, canola, sugar beet and alfalfa—are used heavily by the U.S. and global animal feed market.

Very few GMO fresh, whole foods are on store shelves—just papaya from Hawaii and some squash. Syngenta has offered GMO sweet corn for about a decade, but most farmers have not grown it.

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,” Archer 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.”

Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

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Gaining Ground on Fight to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

Protesters rally against Monsanto in Orlando, FL in May. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

rcummins“The ground we gained in Washington, in the form of votes, is nothing compared with the ground—in the form of soil and farms and fields—we plan to take back from Monsanto in the months and years ahead. Watch out, Monsanto. We have plans. And those plans include taking back our seeds, our food, our farms, our rights. Our health. We will keep gaining ground. Until we reclaim it for the people.”—Katherine Paul, Organic Consumers Association, Nov. 7, 2013

Twelve months after narrowly defeating our organic and natural health movement in an expensive and bitterly fought California ballot initiative to label genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) in foods, Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) are publicly bragging that they’ve beaten us again, 52 percent to 48 percent, in a similar ballot initiative in Washington state. 

Protesters rally against Monsanto in Orlando, FL in May. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Protesters rally against Monsanto in Orlando, FL in May. Photo credit: Shutterstock

But at what cost? Thanks to increased consumer awareness and resistance against GMOs, the biotech and junk food lobbies were forced to spend twice as much money per capita in Washington as they spent in California. 

They stooped to laundering $12 million in funds from Big Food companies to hide their identities in the hope of avoiding another round of bad publicity. They had to launch the same scurrilous barrage of TV, radio and direct mail ads, falsely claiming that GMO food labels as prescribed by the initiative were “confusing” and “limited,” and would significantly increase food costs, hurt family farmers and benefit special interest groups. 

Yes, at the end of the day, Monsanto and Big Food confused enough Washington voters to scrape out a narrow victory over the measure, called I-522, in a low-turnout, off-year election.

But just as in California, Big Food and Big Biotech privately acknowledged that I-522 was a hollow victory, another expensive, brand-damaging battle in a fruitless war against consumer choice, a war they will inevitably lose. 

After spending $70 million in California and Washington, reaping tons of bad publicity in the process, large food corporations and biotech companies understand the enormous risk of fighting high-visibility battles defending a technology that 40 percent of the population believes is unsafe, while another 40 percent remains unsure. 

The biotech and junk food lobbies also understand that public concern and anger are very likely to increase in 2014, given that a new generation of ever-more hazardous and outrageous Frankenfoods and crops, including genetically engineered salmon, apples and Agent Orange (2,4 D or dicamba-resistant) corn are about to be approved by the Obama administration. This is why the GMA blatantly broke the law in Washington, trying to conceal $12 million in campaign donations from some of the world’s largest and most profitable junk food companies, including Coke, Pepsi, Nestlé, General Mills and Kellogg’s.

And this is why the food giants and biotech bullies—Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, BASF, Syngenta, and Bayer—now are secretly lobbying the federal government to take away states’ rights to pass mandatory labels on GMO food. 

As Monsanto and the GMA understand, their dirty-money-dirty-tricks campaign in Washington has backfired, stimulating another consumer backlash, galvanizing an even larger and more radical anti-GMO grassroots movement than before. For the next 12 months the proponents of “no labels” on GMO foods will be facing legislative battles on labeling in no less than 30 states, with Vermont likely to pass mandatory labeling in early 2014.

Some major food companies, including Unilever and Mars, bruised by bad publicity and consumer boycotts, have broken ranks with the GMA and the biotech industry, arguing that GMO food labels are inevitable and must be accepted—just as they’ve had to accept them in Europe and dozens of other countries. 

At least 30 leading mass-market food corporations, constituting a full 10 percent of the GMA’s total membership, who contributed money to the “no labeling” effort in California, refused to make a donation against I-522 in Washington, fearing a backlash from consumers. 

But what is perhaps most threatening to the national $800 billion food and factory farm industry is the fact that the organic and natural health movement appears to be growing not only more popular, but also more radical. A majority of today’s organic and local food activists, supported by the powerful natural health movement, are no longer just mobilizing to label or ban GMOs. They are also speaking out against industrial food and farming practices in general—pesticides, animal drugs, junk foods, antibiotics, growth promoters, climate disrupting nitrate fertilizer, and inhumane, polluting and disease-ridden factory farms. They are speaking out against the destructive practices of Big Pharma, which increasingly works hand-in-hand with Big Biotech and Big Food to supply the dangerous drugs, vaccines and growth promoters that make factory farming and genetic engineering profitable.

Millions of Americans are aware that chemical- and energy-intensive industrial food and farming as a whole—not just GMOs—pose a fundamental threat to public health, the environment and climate stability.

More and more critics and journalists are exposing the hazards and cruelty of factory-farmed meat, dairy and eggs, and the highly processed, chemical-laden junk food that constitute the bulk of America’s diet. Millions of health-conscious consumers now understand that for decades, non-organic processed foods have been diabolically engineered and laced with synthetic chemicals and additives designed to turn consumers and children into obese, cancer-and heart disease-prone junk food addicts. 

Monsanto and Big Food’s greatest fear is materializing. A critical mass of educated consumers, food and natural health activists are organizing a powerful movement capable of overthrowing North America’s GMO and junk food empire. And they’re doing it by zeroing in on the Achilles heel of Food Inc.: misleading and outright fraudulent labeling and advertising.

Beyond California and Washington: How to Defeat the Biotech Bullies

Consumer polls indicate that the overwhelming majority of Americans want to know whether their food has been genetically engineered, and that they want these foods labeled. Not because of some abstract “right-to-know” motivation, which can be undermined, as we’ve seen in California and Washington by massive TV and radio advertising. But because consumers believe either that GMOs are dangerous, or that we don’t know enough about them to be sure that they aren’t dangerous. 

We need to constantly remind Americans that their fear and uneasiness about giant chemical and seed companies tampering with their food is justified. We need labels on GMOs so that we consumers can defend ourselves, as well as animals and the environment, from these pesticide-drenched (Roundup-resistant) or pesticide impregnated (Bt-spliced) foods. 

Unlike the ballot initiatives in California and Washington, where broad-based coalitions were only able to reach consensus on watered-down messages of “consumer right-to-know,” while sidestepping the more volatile issues of food safety and environmental destruction, we need to broadcast and repeat over and over again the justifiably alarming message of leading organic and natural health groups: We need to know if our foods are tainted with GMOs because there is mounting scientific evidence that genetically engineered foods are dangerous to human health, animals and the environment. 

If anyone has any doubts about this mounting scientific evidence, you can point them to the respected website www.EarthOpenSource.org, where scores of independent, peer-reviewed scientists sound the alarm. Or to this statement signed by 230 scientists and physicians. 

We need labels on genetically engineered seeds, animal feed and human foods so that we can track the damage that they are already doing. We need labels on foods with GMOs so that we can boycott them in the marketplace. 

An example of how this more radical message is a winning strategy is the GMO labeling campaign in Vermont, where labeling advocates have not been afraid to point out that genetically engineered foods and crops are dangerous. The only reason the Vermont legislature has not dared to pass a law yet (this will likely change in a few months) is the repeated threat of Monsanto’s henchmen/women to sue the state in federal court if they dare to pass a law.

Polls indicate that another reason we narrowly lost in California and Washington was the “exemption issue.” The biotech industry incessantly broadcast its message, designed to confuse voters, that these GMO labeling laws would apply only to a limited number of foods, mainly processed foods, while ignoring others, including meat, eggs, dairy, restaurant and takeout foods. We need to take on this issue, head-on, not evade it. Millions of Americans want to know whether their food is genetically engineered or whether it comes from an inhumane, chemical-intensive, drug-intensive factory farm—whether they’re shopping in a grocery store or sitting down in a restaurant. 

Our job, now and in the future will be to carry out public education, marketplace pressure and legislative campaigns designed to provide all of this information to consumers. In the future we will press for GMO or factory farm labels on all foods, whether they are purchased in grocery stores, restaurants, or school cafeterias. Current federal law prevents citizens from passing individual laws or ballot initiatives on food labeling that are all-inclusive. So we will need to draft and push multiple pieces of legislation and/or ballot initiatives so that nothing of significance is exempted. We believe that once consumers know whether grocery store, restaurant and school food is genetically engineered or factory-farmed, they will, in increasing numbers, choose organic and non-GMO food for themselves and their families. 

We may have narrowly lost the first preliminary battles to label GMO foods in California and Washington in 2012 and 2013. But as we step up our resistance and deliver a more radical and comprehensive message in 2014, we will win the war. But we must be prepared to fight, not only for the right to know whether the food we are eating is genetically engineered or factory-farmed, but for democracy and sustainability on all fronts.

Without campaign finance reform or without breaking the stranglehold of large corporations and the wealthy over the media, the federal government and the judiciary, there can be no democracy. Without a balance of powers between the federal government, states and local home rule, there is no republic, but rather a Corporatocracy, an unholy alliance between indentured politicians and profit-at-any-cost corporations. Without changing our food system we will be unable to address the climate crisis, the most serious threat that human divination has ever faced. The battle for non-GMO, non-factory-farmed food and farming is a battle we cannot afford to lose.

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Colbert Lampoons Opponents of Washington GMO Labeling Initiative

colbert

Last night, The Colbert Report did a piece on I-522, the apparently defeated Washington state initiative that would have required foods containing genetically modified organisms to be labeled. 

This must-watch video features Max Goldberg of  livingmaxwell.com, with Colbert’s usual tongue-in-cheek humor.

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Big Food’s Secret Plan to Kill GMO Labeling

Photo credit: Shutterstock

msimonWith the disappointing results now in from I-522, the initiative in Washington State that would have required labeling of genetically engineered food (aka GMOs), the looming question is, what’s next? At least for the junk food lobby, that answer in painfully clear: Stop this state-level movement at any cost.

In today’s New York Times, Stephanie Strom reports on the dirty details contained in industry documents that I obtained from the Washington State attorney general’s office in the wake of a lawsuit brought against the Grocery Manufacturers Association for illegally concealing donors to the No on 522 campaign.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

As I explained back in February, the food industry’s ultimate game plan to stop the bleeding in the state-by-state onslaught of GMO labeling efforts is to lobby for a weak federal law that simultaneously preempts or trumps any state-level policy. While we have known that industry would want to put an end to the public relations nightmare happening state by state, this document for the first time reveals the lobbyists’ specific strategy.

The details are even worse than I thought and give new meaning to the word chutzpah. I had predicted a federal compromise, where industry would agree to a weak form of labeling in exchange for stripping state authority. But what industry wants instead is to stop state laws to require labeling, while not giving up anything in return. In their own words, the game plan is to “pursue statutory federal preemption which does not include a labeling requirement.”

Let me repeat: The junk food lobby’s “federal solution” is to make it illegal for states to pass laws requiring GMO labeling. Period. End of story.

This is not the way preemption is supposed to work. A quick primer. Preemption simply means that a higher law trumps a lower law: so federal trumps state, and state trumps local. This is often the most economically feasible policy approach for business. But it’s also industry’s way of ensuring uniformity and stopping a movement in its tracks. Here is the pattern: a grassroots movement builds over time to enact local or state laws to protect public health or increase the minimum wage, or some other social goal, and industry fights these efforts for years, until they can no longer win. At that point, corporate lobbyists either get their own weak bill passed, or work with advocates to pass a compromise version. In exchange, this new law will preempt or prevent any state or city from passing a different or stronger law. It will also negate any law already passed. Forever.

But usually, there is some underlying legal requirement that industry must follow for the concept of preemption to even make sense. The idea is to require some action by industry, with the trade-off for companies to follow one standard instead of 50. Take menu labeling in chain restaurants as a good example. For that issue, there was also a grassroots movement in both states and cities around the nation. So when the National Restaurant Association had enough of fighting those bills, the lobbying group agreed to a federal compromise to require only calorie counts (a weak standard) in exchange for preemption, that is, not allowing any state or local laws to go further. In fact, the Grocery Manufacturers Association itself endorsed this plan.

But in the current GMA chutzpah scenario, the federal government would outlaw states from enacting GMO labeling, while food makers would not have to label their products. In other words, industry would stop the grassroots movement and not have to pay any price.

Now that the junk food lobby’s true agenda has been revealed, our federal representatives and officials are on notice: The food movement will be holding you accountable to ensure that this democracy-killing power grab does not come to fruition.

You can read the entire set of documents from GMA here. Much of the text is redacted, a sign that industry has a lot more to hide.

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Washington Votes Down Initiative 522 to Label GMO Foods

The initiative campaign put Washington at center stage in debates over both genetic engineering and the role of out-of-state funding in elections. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Washington state voters on Tuesday rejected an initiative that would have required foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled.

Had it passed, Initiative 522 would have made the state the first in the nation to require such labeling.

The vote was 54.8 percent opposed to labeling and 45.2 percent in favor of it, USA Today reported. The measure led in only three counties.

The initiative campaign put Washington at center stage in debates over both genetic engineering and the role of out-of-state funding in elections. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The initiative campaign put Washington at center stage in debates over both genetic engineering and the role of out-of-state funding in elections. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Opponents of the measure, backed by Monsanto and other large agribusinesses, outspent proponents by a ratio of nearly 3-to-1, making the initiative campaign the costliest in state history. The No on 522 campaign brought in $22 million in donations, and the top five contributors were the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience.

The largest donor to the pro-labeling campaign were California-based Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C. However the initiative garnered almost 30 percent of its funding from individuals in Washington state, the Seattle Times reported.

“Win or lose, this is a long war,” said David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the initiative’s biggest donor. “Labeling is inevitable.”

Rep. Cary Condotta (R-East Wenatchee) and a co-chair of the “Yes” campaign, told the Seattle Times there is an upside to the election—90 percent of Washington residents now know what (GMOs) are. “The movement continues,” he said.

Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, supporters contend. 

“Sooner or later, one of these is going to pass. It’s only a matter of time. At some point the industry is going to get tired of pouring this kind of money into these campaigns,” Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, told USA Today.

She said she doesn’t believe there’s anything dangerous about genetically engineered foods but is concerned about corporate control of the food supply.

The Food and Drug Administration does not require foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled because it considers them “functionally equivalent” to conventionally grown crops.

Visit EcoWatch’s GMO page for more related news on this topic.

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