GMO Corn Is Coming to a Walmart Near You!

Just When Walmart Was Cleaning Up Its Act—GMOs in the Produce Aisle

gmo corn

GMO corn—how do you feel about it? (Photo: Getty Images)

Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

For eaters looking to avoid genetically modified ingredients, the produce aisle has traditionally been the supermarket sweet spot where a consumer doesn’t have to be over-vigilant. But that’s about to change.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Walmart Stores, Inc. has confirmed that they have no objection to selling genetically modified sweet corn. Nor do they plan to label it.

“After closely looking at both sides of the debate and collaborating with a number of respected food safety experts, we see no scientifically validated safety reasons to implement restrictions on this product,” the company confirmed with the Chicago Tribune.

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The news was a blow to environmental groups like Food and Water Watch, which petitioned Walmart with 463,000 signatures asking the grocery giant not to carry the controversial sweet corn.

Genetically modified corn was engineered to be resistant to both pesticides and herbicides—the term is called “stacked.” In August 2011, Monsanto announced it would begin selling its genetically modified sweet corn, which means this is the first season it could appear on shelves.

Sweet corn currently makes up one percent of the corn grown in the U.S. Two representatives from the USDA’s Economic Research Service, which tracks U.S. crop production, told TakePart they do not know how much of this year’s sweet corn crop was planted using Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds.

Sweet corn isn’t the only fresh vegetable that could potentially be genetically modified. Monsanto also sells yellow crook neck squash that has been engineered to resist viruses. Fresh papaya from Florida and Hawaii may also be genetically modified. And potentially coming to a produce aisle near you? A genetically modified apple is also currently under consideration by the USDA.

GMO’s appearance in the produce aisle isn’t new. The first genetically modified food approved for human consumption was the Flavr Saver tomato in 1994, but consumers said “no thanks,” and it vanished from store shelves.

Most genetically modified foods reach our dinner plate indirectly—though livestock that are fed corn and soybeans as part of their diets, or by way of highly processed foods like soda, crackers, cereals, etc. Since a large majority of us are already consuming genetically engineered food already, why the worry over GMO sweet corn?

“It’s not that there’s anything unique about the genes that make it more problematic,” Michael Hansen, senior scientist with Consumers Union tells TakePart. “It’s that the exposure is more direct. With sweet corn, you’re getting larger doses of the engineered crop more directly.”

Consumer advocates say there haven’t been enough studies done on its safety and long-term impacts. Others are concerned that lack of labeling—especially on fresh produce—means that unless you know your farmer or grew it yourself, that roasted ear of corn you nibbled on this summer may not have been as “natural” as you think. 

“This is just the latest example in a long list of examples on why we need labeling for genentically modified food,” Patty Lovera, assistant director for Food and Water Watch, tells TakePart. “You can be as up-to-speed as you want, but it’s creeping into new parts of the store.”

Are you concerned about avoiding GMOs in your food?

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