Farmers in the U.S. will remember summer 2012 for its lowest corn yield of the past ten seasons. ‘Right to know’ activists will remember autumn, 2012, as the year California passed, or failed to pass, the GMO labeling initiative, otherwise known as proposition 37. Yet, there exists one more reason to remember both corn and GMO this season, as the multimillion dollar discount warehouse and grocery store, Wal-Mart, has elected to do something the organically minded “Whole Foods” and even the more mainstream, General Mills, will not, which is carry the conglomerate, Monsanto’s, first genetically modified fresh produce, specifically a strain of GM sweet corn. The privately held chain, Trader Joe’s, has also agreed not to stock the corn. Meanwhile, other chains, like Safeway and Lovera, are less eager to commit, making no response when asked by reporters.
Being out on a limb with its decision hasn’t fazed Wal-Mart. A representative states “after closely looking at both sides of the debate…we see no scientifically validated safety reasons to implement restrictions on this product.”
Patty Lovera is an assistant director of the non-governmental consumer group, Food and Water Watch, as well as a big voice in consumer advocacy, moreover, the driving force behind a nearly 500,000 signature-strong petition urging Wal-Mart not to endorse Monsanto’s latest creation. In her words, “a lot of people who were their customers explicitly said we don’t want you to carry this product.”
Lovera and her petitioners are not alone. While some express the wish to know if their foodstuffs are altered to eliminate possible allergic reactions, others feel, as the proponents of California prop 37 do, that it is no more than their “right to know” what is in their food. Still others feel that Monsanto’s reputation is simply too tarnished for U.S. chains, like Wal-Mart, to give space to their foodstuffs.
One who would agree that Monsanto’s reputation is tarnished is Marian Mayet, outspoken environmental advocate and director of the Africa-centre for biosecurity in Johannesburg. In 2009 Monsanto’s genetically altered corn crop in South Africa failed. While the implicated corn appeared healthy upon first inspection, closer examination proved it nearly seedless. Believing DNA manipulations, which the corn strains possessed, both to override the effect of pesticides, as well as to induce greater yields, were the culprit, Mayet lay the blame for the crop failure at Monsanto’s door and called for a ban on all Monsanto products. Monsanto spokespeople suggested a process of “ under-fertilization” in the laboratory could be the culprit, to which, Mayet declared “You cannot make a ‘mistake’ with three different varieties of corn.”
Mayet is not alone in her wariness regarding GM foods. NaturalNews.com., for example, points the finger at ominous genetic and reproductive disorders in study animals fed modified soy, corn and cottonseed, suggesting immunological and reproductive problems with humans ingesting the same foods is not too much of a reach.
And the finger-pointing continues to escalate on both sides, with Monsanto insisting “Farmers who grow biotech sweet corn can reduce insecticide applications by as much as 85 percent,“ ironically, just as an EPA instituted group of nearly two dozen scientists vilify the same pesticide resistant strains lauded by Monsanto for its effect of creating mutant resistant insects wherever the corn is grown.
One thing is certain, Wal-Mart shoppers have no way of recognizing the new modified Monsanto sweetcorn, a fact that would induce less trepidation in worried consumers were pre-market testing strictures in place. Even the AMA, while remaining consistent in it’s stance that labeling is not necessary for GMOs, endorses measures such as the UK DNA testing routinely conducted on certain foods prior to being sold on the market.
Truthfully, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does urge manufacturers of GMOs to administer pre-market testing. However, no specific rules exist to sway conglomerates away from non-compliance of such suggested edicts. Neither is labeling of GM foods required in the U.S. Although many countries around the world insist on such disclosure. For now, anyway, it seems Wal-Mart shoppers seeking fresh sweet corn for that perfect end of season barbecue will have to take their chances.
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