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Study finds GM sweet corn in some, but not many US stores

Genetically modified corn has been in the American diet since the mid 1990s, but mostly in the form of processed foods that use corn meal, high fructose corn syrup and other products derived from GM field corn.

Consumers who were already worried about these processed uses, however, were especially concerned when it was announced that a GM sweet corn by Monsanto would be planted in 2012. These consumers and activists believed that any negative effects caused by the processed GM field corn would be magnified when the GM corn was eaten straight off the cob.

And without GM labeling laws, they noted, U.S. consumers wouldn’t even know they were eating it.

After Whole Foods, Trader Joes and General Mills pledged they would not sell Monsanto’s GM sweet corn, consumers turned their sites to Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer. Nearly a half a million petitioned the store not to sell it. But in August of 2012,  Walmart Inc. announced it had no objection to selling the GM corn. And Monsanto said that some Midwest farmers were planting it.

So what’s happened since then? Did any U.S. stores sell it? Did American consumers end up eating it at their backyard barbecues?

Monsanto says that its sweetcorn business grew very well this year. But Thursday, environmental group Friends of the Earth, said its new study told a diffferent story. The group announced that it tested 71 samples of sweet corn from around the country this summer and came up with only 2 that tested positive for proteins associated with Monsanto’s Seminis® Performance Series™ sweet corn. Those samples came from Colorado and Massachusetts, the report said. FOE says the two samples were grown in Canada.

“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.

The organization says that samples it tested from Washington State, California, Illinois, Vermont, Washington, D.C. or Oregon and in other Colorado or Massachusetts retailers tested negative for the GM sweet corn proteins.

But this was not the case in Canada where the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network performed similar tests and reported, last month, that 15 of 34 samples tested positive.

Interestingly enough, none of the samples tested from Walmarts in the U.S. and Canada tested positive as the GM sweet corn.

In a press release issued Thursday, Friends of the Earth concludes that the GM sweet corn was “a big flop in the U.S. market.”

But Monsanto takes exception with that interpretation.

"Our GM sweetcorn business has grown tremendously this year and the business is proceeding quite satisfactorily," spokesman Thomas Helscher wrote to WBEZ. "There has been high consumer satisfaction and extremely positive feedback from growers about improved plant health and yield."

Furthermore, the company says that "Most of the GM sweetcorn is not grown in Canada."

Monica Eng is a producer at WBEZ and the co-host of the food podcast Chewing the Fat. Follow her on Twitter @monicaeng.

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