I’ve been growing sweet corn in Iowa for more than four decades, and last summer’s sweet corn was the best I’ve ever eaten.
Biotechnology was the essential ingredient.
For the last few years, I’ve set aside a small field for sweet corn, giving it a little extra attention because I donate the harvest to my church. The church ladies use it for a big social event, deliver it to shut-ins, and give it to the community.
In 2012 I had the opportunity to grow GE sweet corn for the first time.
Today, more than 85 percent of the corn grown in the United States benefits from biotechnology. These crops possess a remarkable ability to fight weeds and pests. Over the last fifteen years or so, they’ve revolutionized agriculture around the world. We’re growing more food on less land than ever before.
People who want to keep GE food out of their diets can buy organic.
GE sweet corn isn’t new, but, until recently, it has been rare. The sweet corn you buy in grocery stores, farmers markets, and at roadside stands represents less than 1 percent of the overall corn market but, according to a statement from Monsanto, accounts for 40 percent of all insecticides used in corn production. GE sweet corn reduces insecticide use by harnessing some of the same traits found in the GE field corn I grow, which becomes animal feed, corn sugar, and biofuel.
Growing GE sweet corn on my farm was an experiment—I didn’t know how it would perform. I’ve grown biotech field corn for years, so I was confident that GE sweet corn would be a high-quality product. But you never know until you try.
Long before biting into GE corn on the cob, I could see a difference. As soon as the plants started to sprout in the field, it was obvious: the stalks were strong and the kernels clean. There were no weeds in the rows, robbing moisture. I didn’t even have to worry about insects such as rootworm or the corn borer. The plants resist them.
When I’ve grown sweet corn in the past, I’ve struggled with weeds and pests. The only way to begin to control them was through chemical sprays. Non-GE sweet corn usually requires two or three applications of herbicide and one or two applications of pesticide. My GE sweet corn, however, needed just one pass of herbicide—and the result was far better.
Best of all was the taste. Corn farmers say that healthy plants produce healthy ears and healthy ears produce healthy kernels. GE sweet corn is a healthy product down to its roots—and it was delicious.
It’s an example of less equaling more—the very definition of sustainable agriculture. What a tremendous benefit for everyone.
As Pamela Ronald argues, the opponents of biotechnology protest every innovation in agriculture. In some states, they are asking voters to demand that all GE food be labeled. The only problem with mandatory labeling, other than the added expense that will surely be passed on to consumers, is the profound misperception it would create. There is no difference between GE food and non-GE food. GE foods are safe to eat. That is the conclusion of every scientific and regulatory agency that has studied the question, from the American Medical Association to the World Health Organization. With no reliable evidence that the GE foods now available pose any risk to consumers, GE labels cannot convey useful consumer information.
People who want to keep GE food out of their diets, however, have a simple solution: they can choose to buy organic.