The Kroger Company and H-E-B have joined Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in declining to carry the new genetically engineered (GE) sweet corn developed by Monsanto.

H-E-B. spokesperson Dya Campas said that H-E-B (which is the parent of Central Market)  will not be carrying Monsanto’s GE sweet corn. Ditto for Kroger’s.  Spokesperson  Kristal Howard  not only said “Kroger will not carry Monsanto corn,”  she went out of her way to emphasize the grocer’s “year-round commitment to providing fresh, locally sourced produce for customers.” 

Press reports say that General Mills is also on record as saying no to Monsanto’s sweet corn.

The Chicago Tribune  broke the story August 4 that Wal-Mart has decided to sell Monsanto’s new GE  sweet corn.   That was in spite of a petition from Food and Water Watch asking Wal-Mart not to sell the corn. The petition garnered some 463,000 signatures.

It’s not like GE foods (aka GMOs or genetically modified organisms) are not already pervasive in our food supply.   It’s estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the processed foods on your grocer’s shelves contain some GE ingredients, mostly because of high fructose corn syrup.  

And it’s not like this is the first direct assault on our dinner plates the major seed companies have launched.  

Swiss-based Syngenta has been selling GE sweet corn seeds to farmers since 1998.  According to Syngenta spokesperson Paul Minehart, you can find these “biotech-improved sweet corn hybrids” at “roadside stands” primarily in the Midwest and along the East Coast. 

And Seminis Vegetable Seeds, a Monsanto-owned company, has been selling GE seeds for yellowneck squash and zucchini since the mid-1990s.  There are also GE tomatoes, potatoes and papaya that have been cleared for the market by the USDA, though it’s not clear that they have been planted in any quantity.

But this most recent assault on good food is different.  It marks the first time that Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, has developed a product directly for the consumer market.  Up until their sweet corn introduction, Monsanto had focused its attention primarily on commodity products like feed corn and soy. 

And it’s the first time that a direct-to-your-plate GE product will be so widely available courtesy of the largest food retailer in the world, Wal-Mart.

So what’s next?   How about a GE apple that doesn't turn brown, or a GE chile pepper that will be able to stand up to mechanical harvesting, or GE salmon engineered to grow twice as fast as normal.

They are all in the pipeline.

The apple was developed by a Canadian company that engineered an apple that won’t turn brown when sliced.  Food and Water Watch has started a campaign to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture not to approve it for marketing in the U.S.

The GE chile meanwhile--according to a newly released documentary, Genetic Chile-- is under development by New Mexico State University.  The new GE chile apparently will be hardier so it can stand up to industrial-style harvesting.  The movie is unclear as to when the chile might be ready for planting, and an email query to Professor Stephen Hanson at NMSU went unanswered.   

As for the salmon, although the FDA concluded that the “salmon is as safe as food from conventional salmon …” pressure from environmental groups and the fishing industry has delayed final approval.

And when these GE foods inexorably arrive on supermarket shelves, there will be no way to tell them apart.  Unlike most developed countries, including 15 nations in the European Union,  the U.S.A. does not require the labeling of GE foods. 

But there is hope.  A ballot imitative in California, called Prop 37, if passed in November will require that foods made with genetically modified ingredients be labeled.  As you would expect, processed food and agriculture companies like Monsanto are against it and have raised some $25 million to defeat the measure.   Monsanto donated $4.2 million to the effort just this week.   

In the meantime, you can avoid GE sweet corn by avoiding Wal-Mart.  Avoiding all GE foods is tough.  Buying organic is one strategy.  Looking for foods with the Non-GMO Project label is another.  Also, try to avoid food with ingredients like corn syrup, corn starch, corn oil, soy lecithin, soy protein, vegetable oil and cottonseed oil.  And buy your meat and poultry from a local rancher who doesn’t feed them GE feed.

For more information on GE foods, how to avoid them and why you should worry about them check out the Non GMO Project’s website.

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