Not all the activist furor is about Wall Street. The prospect of genetically engineered corn is fueling protests from food-watch groups and regular ol’ citizen-eaters alike.

As of last week, more than 260,000 people had signed a new petition protesting Monsanto’s first genetically engineered corn for general consumption. (Meaning that such produce is already in processed food, and this new stuff would go right from field to your plate. And it would come from the company with the biggest share of the country’s corn market.)

Like the Occupy movement, this issue is bringing groups together to make noise and get recognition. A Reuters story says those pushing major retailers to boycott Monsanto’s GE sweet corn include the Center for Environmental Health, the Center for Food Safety, and Food & Water Watch. General Mills and Trader Joe’s have reportedly climbed on board.

Corn on the cob becomes corn from the lab.

Again, like the Occupy crowd, opponents to genetically modified food come at the issue from all angles. Some worry that the foods will cause a surge in allergies or other health issues. Others point out that the long-term effects of GMO food are simply not known yet. One of the arguments for the GMO corn is that the engineering can create resistance to drought, or to insects that typically damage or destroy crops. But some of those very bugs are back in the Monsanto cornfields, and experts worry that the process inevitably creates “super bugs” that will require ever stronger pesticides. Still others have ethical and religious concerns about gene splicing, period.

The issue is not as black and white as some of us would like. Andrew Schneider (of the Food Watchdog) pointed out more than two years ago: “The scientists at Japan’s National Institute for Agrobiological Sciences have developed a transgenic rice plant that has been genetically engineered to fight allergies to Japanese cedar pollen.” Schneider has also noted the difficulty in determining which foods are genetically altered. Labels don’t help as a rule.

One more thing is common to Occupy Wall Street and the anti-Monsanto movements. More people will learn about the issues, and demand yet more information. That’s good.

–Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett






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