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Pesticide Action Network

Monsanto empire hungry for sweet corn

Monsanto has announced it will start selling a new genetically engineered sweet corn directly to U.S. farmers this fall, the Los Angeles Times reports. In doing so, the biotech heavyweight will be directly challenging Syngenta, which has until now been the sole producer of the genetically engineered (GE) sweet corn sold at your grocery store since the late 1990s.

 Monsanto’s new “triple-stack” sweet corn has been engineered to contain three genetic traits, including a bacterial toxin (Bacillus thurengiensis, or Bt) that kills insect pests and resistance to Monsanto’s best-selling weedkiller, Roundup. Roundup has lately been in the news for its association with birth defects as has the worrying way in which the engineered Bt toxin is turning up in umbilical cordblood. Meanwhile, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready system has contributed to an epidemic of superweeds spreading across 11 million acres of land. 

When Monsanto began aggressively promoting its “triple-stack” field corn in 2008, the company raised the price by 30%, making it the most expensive corn seed on the market. Unable to find “single-trait” GE corn or non-GE corn seed on the market, farmers found they had few options—and with the price of inputs skyrocketing and Monsanto recording tidy profits, more family farmers filed for bankruptcy. The Farmer to Farmer Campaign has reported on these and other abuses of the biotech seed industry experienced by American family farmers.

Corn is very promiscuous, meaning it's easy for cross-pollination to occur. – Marcia Ishii-Eiteman

Organic and conventional farmers alike are alarmed at the increasing risk of genetic contamination of their fields by Monsanto’s ubiquitous Roundup Ready GE crops, and the loss of locally adapted crop varieties. As PAN's Marcia Ishii-Eiteman explained to Fast Company, "Corn is very promiscuous, meaning it's easy for cross-pollination to occur. We saw this in Mexico when Indigenous corn varieties there were contaminated with GE corn.”

Monsanto already controls 60% of the U.S. field corn and soybean markets and 95% of the GE cotton and sugar beet markets. Over 80% of U.S. corn acreage and 90% of soybean acreage is planted to Monsanto’s patented GE traits. When it acquired the vegetable seed company Seminis in 2005, Monsanto assumed its familiar position of market dominance, making it the world’s largest fruit and vegetable seed company, with seed sales reaching growers in more than 150 countries.

Monsanto claims that its launch of the GE sweet corn this fall will be “modest.” Only in the southeast, they told the L.A. Times. And the northeast too, they added the next morning. Those two regions combined account for 52% of the sweet corn produced in the United States. 

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Pesticide Action Network

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