Genetically modified corn varieties are popping with news
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By Monica Eng
7:55 p.m. CST, February 23, 2012
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With so much recent news on genetically modified corn varieties, its a wonder anyone can keep up. But lest you end up the only one at the cocktail party tonight without the latest GMO corn scoop, here’s a primer on the new developments.
The French Government this week urged the European Commission to restrict the planting of Monsanto’s genetically modified MON810 corn in the European Union.
The French said the request was based on the recent scientific studies showing that the GM crops “pose significant risks to the environment,” according to a report from Food NavigatorUSA.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., where genetically modified field corn is already widely planted, activists are trying to fight the mass distribution of a newer form of genetically modified Monsanto corn, this time a sweet corn that will be sold directly to consumers. Like the French government, many American food activists oppose genetically modified field corn– used mainly for animal feed, high fructose corn syrup or other processed corn products—and more than 800,000 have petitioned the FDA to label it. The agency must respond to the petition by late March.
Still, the genetically modified sweet corn seems to have struck a particular nerve because the product will go directly onto American plates. In recent months activists groups have collected nearly 72,000 supporters for a petition urging Walmart not to carry it.
Consumer group Food and Water Watch, which has asked followers to support the petition, notes that —like all GMO products—the sweet corn “hasn’t been tested for human safety.” Furthermore, FWW writes, “it contains three different genetically engineered traits that have never been used in food eaten directly by people.” Monsanto did not respond to requests for comment.
Whole Foods has already pledged not to carry the GMO sweet corn. And Trader Joe’s has been reported to make a similar pledge. But will the world’s largest retailer?
Walmart spokesperson Dianna Gee told the Tribune Wednesday that the retailer is aware of the petition and “we currently have no plans to carry it.”
When asked if that meant Walmart would not carry the sweet corn this summer when it is made available for the first time, Gee said “I don’t know. That decision has not been made…It would be premature to talk about that far ahead.”
But food activists aren’t opposing only Monsanto’s genetically modified corn. Yet another GM corn campaign is brewing this month urging the Department of Agriculture to reject approval for an even newer version of GM corn made by the chemical giant Dow in its AgroScience division. While Monsanto’s corn varieties are supposed to contain their own herbicide or remain resistant to Monsanto’s pesticide Roundup, Dow’s is aimed at, among other things, dealing with the Roundup resistant superweeds that have plagued farmers who use Monsanto’s GMO seeds in recent years. This new corn, instead, supposed to be resistant to an herbicide called 2,4-D, one of the ingredients used in Agent Orange.
Wednesday the USDA extended the public comment period (during which time consumers can write comments to the department) for the controversial corn variety called Enlist by two months, until late April.
The Center for Food Safety said it will challenge Enlist’s apporval if it goes through, “as this novel GE crop provides no public benefit and will only cause serious harm to human health, the environment, and threaten American farms.”
“Dow’s ‘Agent Orange’ corn will trigger a large increase in 2,4-D use—and our exposure to this toxic herbicide—yet USDA has not assessed how much, nor analyzed the serious harm to human health, the environment, or neighboring farms,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “This novel corn will foster resistant weeds that require more toxic pesticides to kill, followed by more resistance and more pesticides—a chemical arms race in which the only winners are pesticide/biotechnology firms.”
Dow AgroScience said it is still believes the corn variety will be approved in a timely manner. And, indeed, the USDA announced, just this week, rule changes to cut in half approval times for genetically modified crops.
Further, Dow spokesman Garry Hamlin says the use of the term “Agent Orange corn” is misleading as “the herbicide 2,4-D is not a focus of Agent Orange controversies.” Another component of Agent Orange (called 2,4,5-T) is. Additionally, he notes that regulatory authorities worldwide, including the Environmental Protection Agency, “have found little concern for adverse effects when the product is used as directed.”
The National Resources Defense Council doesn’t agree. Thursday it announced that the NRDC is suing the EPA for failing to respond to a 2008 petition to cancel all “registrations and revoke all tolerances of this known neurotoxin and ingredient in Agent Orange.”
“This dangerous pesticide is lurking all over the place – from ball fields and golf courses, to front lawns and farms – exposing an enormous amount of the American public to cancer and other serious health risks,” said NRDC senior scientist Dr. Gina Solomon in a release by the council. “There’s no reason to continue allowing a toxic Agent Orange-ingredient in the places our children play, our families live and our farmers work. EPA must step up and finally put a stop to it.”
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