Organic corn growers
face new challenges
Are you sure your corn is organic?
Anna May Kinney
There was a time when our only worry was whether our kids would eat their vegetables. We watched as peas were rolled from one side of the plate to the other, while youngsters silently wished for them to disappear.
In the sixties we learned about the dangers of pesticides and herbicides. Concerned parents either found a place to buy organic produce or grew their own in the back yard.
Now that we have ushered in the new millennia, many of the foods our species has taken for granted since man first walked on earth are quickly disappearing and being replaced by genetically altered products that looks, smells and tastes the same as the food we all grew up on, but is a whole lot different.
Hidden deep inside these vegetables, are genes, bacteria or proteins that are foreign to that particular species of plant and in many cases have not yet been proven safe for human consumption. Currently there are no in-depth human safety studies being carried out on genetically engineered foods before they are fed on a mass scale to the public.
From the hundreds of e-mails I have received these last two years, I know you are concerned about what you are feeding your family. I have watched with joy and pride as many of you have started your first organic gardens. My advice has always been, if you want to stay away from GE (genetically modified) food, grow it yourself or buy it organically. Sorry to say, protecting your family from GE foods, is no longer as simple as
growing it organically in your back yard. For the first time in history, we are facing something our ancestors never thought possible, a genetically altered seed supply.
During the past year, we have all heard of the StarLink corn fiasco, to most people it only meant that some unapproved corn got into the food supply. To feel safe many have turned to organic foods, many others just avoid eating corn products, thinking the bad corn will work its way out of the food chain.
Well the truth is; ONLY less than one-half of one percent of the annual US corn crop was planted in StarLink corn. But since the USDA's Grain Inspection Service started testing corn samples last November, it has found that out of more than 110,000 samples of corn that nearly 10 percent of the corn crop now tests positive for the StarLink protein Cry9C.
On April 5, the Wall Street Journal ran an article revealing that 16 out of 20 products that were labeled as Non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) or GMO-Free actually contained genetically engineered ingredients. In trying to determine why this happened, here is what the Wall Street Journal reported:
"The problem, regulators and growers say, is that some genetically modified crops - which have been designed to resist disease, pests and chemicals - can cross-pollinate freely with regular crops, passing along their altered traits to the next generation. This has already proved to be the case with StarLink, a brand of corn that was genetically modified to produce its own pesticide."
Since 1996 there has been a steady increase in the number of organic cornfields that are being contaminated by the pollen from genetically engineered crops, and the more GE corn planted the more pollen available to drift onto organic fields. In the United States, this year there are a whooping 18.4 million acres of GE corn planted.
In the February 6, 2001 issue of Cropchoice News, in an interview, David Gould, a member of the certification committee of Farm Verified Organic in North Dakota and California Certified Organic Farmers said, "Our investigations thus far from the 2000 harvest lead us to believe that virtually all of the seed corn in the United States is contaminated with at least a trace of genetically engineered material, and often more.
Even the organic lots are showing traces of biotech varieties."
What is Cry9C? StarLink corn was genetically modified by Aventis Crop Sciences to contain a pesticide protein, which was never approved for human consumption because of concerns that it might cause a dangerous allergic reaction in some of the population.
The EPA determined that at human body temperature and digestive acid levels, the Cry9c protein in StarLink corn might not be adequately digested in humans. This lack of digestibility could in turn trigger allergic reactions. That is why the StarLink corn was only approved for animal feed and not for human consumption
Since there was an outbreak of complaints when people were made ill after eating at a Taco Bell restaurant, the tacos were tested and found to contain traces of Cry9C, creating a major recall across North America. Recently the FDA, tested 17 of the people who had complained and not finding antibodies to StarLink corn they announced to the public that Cry9C could not have been the cause of their reaction.
Now here's what the CDC report to the FDA states, "Although our results do not provide any evidence that the allergic reactions experienced by the people who filed AER's (adverse event reports) were associated with hypersensitivity to Cry9c (StarLink) protein, we cannot completely rule out this possibility, in part because food allergies may occur without detectable serum IgE to the allergens."
Last fall, in an attempt to rebuild consumer confidence, many tortilla and corn chip manufactures switched to white corn. Producers believed that by using white corn the risk of inadvertently introducing StarLink into their products would be eliminated.
Last month in response to a complaint from a Florida consumer, the Food and Drug Administration found genetic material from StarLink corn in Kash n' Karry White Corn Tortilla Chips. Both Kash n' Karry and Food Lion both voluntarily pulled their house brands from their shelves, even though the FDA did not request a recall.
The presence of StarLink in white corn only proves how difficult it is to keep genetically modified crops from spreading. Seeing that white corn is grown and distributed separately from yellow corn, and that industry observers have said there are no genetically modified varieties of what corn, we have to assume that contamination is taking place at some level along the food chain.
They have also said that it is impossible to prevent some commingling of conventional and modified, as well as white and yellow, corn. The mixing, they said, could happen at processing plants, during transportation or through cross-pollination in fields.
If the seed supply is being effected on such a large scale, where do we turn for our seeds? I suggest if you have any old corn seed, use it to grow more seed to help keep a supply of GE free corn around. If you don't want your old corn seed, send it to me.
Note: A recent survey showed that 65% of North Americans are concerned about this issue and an ABC News poll found 93% of the public want Genetically Modified food labeled. If you feel this way, please let your local MP know. You can obtain more information on this issue at http://www.thecampaign.org
The Campaign, PO Box 55699, Seattle, WA 98155, Tel: 425-771-4049, Fax: 603-825-5841