Yellow corn. Photo: Dan Klimke / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Protesters of genetically modified food were outraged in early August when Wal-Mart Stores Inc. confirmed that the company plans to sell Monsanto’s genetically modified sweet corn as soon as the crop rolls in.

The corn, which produces the protein BT, helps repel pests and reduces the amount of insecticide that farmers have to use. Naturally produced by a soil bacterium, BT is often used by organic farmers to control pests. Protesters are worried, however, that having the protein within the corn will pose health and environmental risks. In other altered crops, such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn, genetically modified genes have been found in neighboring varieties- pointing to the fact that the genetically modified crop is pollinating nearby varieties. This can lead to a bevy of issues for farmers that have chosen not to use genetically modified corn.

The genetically modified food debate has raged ever since there has been genetically modified food—at least since the mid 1990s. And it’s becoming more polarized as the years wear on. While companies tout the effectiveness and safety of their products, activists call them dangerous and unnecessary.

Both sides, though, have their points. The sweet corn does help drastically reduce the use of pesticides (at least for a time), which means a healthier environment and possibly healthier food. At the same time, activists claim that not enough tests have been conducted on the corn and we have no way of knowing how it will impact health (currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require companies to conduct studies). Monsanto, though, claims that it has conducted enough of  its own tests and that they were evaluated by the Center for Food Safety and Nutrition at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The general research that has been conducted on genetically modified food has had far-ranging conclusions. Some specify that the food is harmless, while others conclude that more research should be conducted. Both sides of the debate criticize studies that don’t support their views.

Bowing to pressure from consumers, companies such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and General Mills have promised not to sell the sweet corn.

Other companies also market genetically modified sweet corn. The seed company, Syngenta, has had a genetically modified variety on the market for more than a decade. Cotton, soybeans, sugarbeets, papaya, squash, canola, and corn also all have genetically modified counterparts. Chances are you’ve tasted genetically modified food without even realizing it; the United States doesn’t require companies to label food containing genetically modified components.

“We absolutely have the right to know if our sweet corn we are eating at our barbecue was genetically engineered in the lab,” said Stacy Malkan of California's Right to Know Campaign in an interview conducted by the Chicago Tribune.

While the debate continues, though, Monsanto’s sweet corn will soon be hitting supermarkets across the United States.

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