Success! Though many said it couldn’t be done, buried among the tables at this year’s Farmer’s Market I found what I believed was some of the last non-genetically modified (non-GMO) corn left in the U.S. I carried it home with pride, delighted in the ridiculously juicy corn on the cob we ate and felt satisfied — like I’d eaten a good, healthy meal.
Months later, in the dead of winter, I had a chance encounter with the farmer of this very corn. The nicest guy, proud of the family business he’d helped build over 50+ years, I found myself really wanting to continue to support his product and be on his side.
However, the stories he told about his practices (and corn in general) left my friend and I mortified as to what’s happening with the foods we eat. All in all, I may never eat American corn again.
First, let’s go through a bit of a botany lesson to understand just how corn works. The corn plant has both male and female sections within one stalk. The burst of silk at the top of the cob is the male portion, and this releases pollen into the air to hopefully encounter the the silk found on the inside of the “shell”, below — the female portion. When a piece of pollen comes into contact with the female silk, the silk retracts until it reaches the cob. The fertilized silk, then, is what forms a kernel.
Corn’s biggest enemy is a small worm. These worms thrive among the kernels and have to be battled by the farmer. In an attempt to control this worm problem in a cost-effective, mass way, Montsano genetically modified corn to include pesticide in its very DNA. According to this farmer, the company sold its GMO product rampantly within the United States with no one any the wiser until the corn products reached Europe. With far stricter standards for their foods, the Europeans quickly said, “What is this you’re sending us? It’s not corn,” and rejected GMO products. This brought GMO corn to the attention of the American media.
Now, there really is no consensus as to what GMO products actually do to a body when consumed, but many American consumers have made a choice to eat non-GMO corn, not wanting to ingest these pesticides. I was among them. Last year I had a softball-sized cyst removed from my abdomen and, after the surgery, suffered many ill-effects: among them, 34 food allergies and incredible food sensitivities. Wanting to avoid pesticides, I make the extra trips to the Farmer’s Markets, pay plenty extra for my food and believe(d) that I was making the healthiest choices I can. For me, this is survival.
Now, let’s talk about this farmer’s non-GMO corn. During a tour around his facility, the farmer explained that each kernel is planted in the ground with up to (6) different powdered pesticides on it. These protect the kernel from insects and other issues from the root up, and a specialized, red powder is made right there on the premises.
Now back to that botany lesson. From the time the male portion of the corn bursts until harvest, the corn is sprayed with pesticides daly — this is over 20 times, and intended to keep the worms out of the corn.
And this extra effort I (and much of the public) am making to go to the local Farmer’s Market to get our non-GMO corn? We can get the exact same corn at Costco, Jewel and many of the other large retailers. The corn from these exact fields goes to Costco and is also picked up by local “farmers” who carry it to the markets.
But what he told me over lunch, if it’s true, is the worst “organic” myth of all. Upon finding out that I eat organic, he and his coworkers shook their head in pity at me, laughing as they did.
They went on to explain that a handful of years ago, Wal-Mart came out and said that they would accept all vegetable product: whether it was GMO, non-GMO — it didn’t matter. With GMO corn being more cost-effective to produce, many farmer’s decided to start dividing their land, producing GMO corn for Wal-Mart, and going as far to certify their other land organic.
Now, to be certified organic, the fields need to test time and again pesticide free. Good news. However, there are NO regulations, according to the farmer, for what happens after that.
So… Within one farm there are certified organics and GMO. These are harvested… and often mixed together within the same barn. Therefore, the farmer’s perception is that when we purchase organic, there is a better chance we’re getting an organic product… but there is still a larger likeliness that the product came from the GMO field (or non-certified organic field) at the same place.
So the question becomes… how do you like your corn? Because no matter how you take it: popped, on the cob, in chips, tortillas, etc. — you’d better get used to a smidgen of pesticide.