A GMO is a Genetically Modified Organism. It is a plant or animal in which the genetic makeup of it has been modified by scientists to include selective genes (DNA) from other animals or plants. The most common use of a GMO is in field corn and soybeans. Field corn is not sweet corn. Field corn is a corn raised for processing or animal feed. GMO field corn is often resistant to certain herbicides (such as Roundup) or have the herbicide bred into the plant itself. There is a tremendous amount of controversy about how safe these crops are for our planet and diet.
Occasionally, you will see a GMO sweet corn variety available for sale in stores; that is why I have written this piece.
This week’s sweet corn and all the sweet corns I offer are non-GMO varieties. They are natural hybrids and they have been selected based on their flavor profile. Other hybrids you may see at farmers markets, such as Temptation, Bodacious, Incredible, Silver King/Queen, and Luscious are also Non-GMO.
However, growing a good crop of organic sweet corn can be difficult. The crop needs lots of nutrients fast (usually requires fertilizer) and is attacked by many insects, particularly caterpillars and earworms. Other challenges include birds picking at the ears before they are ripe. Those ears are then missing several kernels and appear damaged to the customer.
For the insect problem, there are two possible solutions, and they help to demonstrate that the term “GMO” is much more complex than one thinks. The first solution is to spray a pesticide. The most common pesticide is Dipel, which is an organic pesticide containing a bacteria derived from an African flower. The bacteria, bacillus thuringiensis, kills the larvae laid by the worms on the silk of the corn. If the larvae are not killed, they will eat the kernels.
The second solution is to develop a corn variety with the bacillus thuringiensis bacteria bred into the seed. These varieties, as designated by their BT-“Name”, are technically GMOs. Why would one prefer the BT variety? The primary reason is prevention of insect problems. Second, it reduces the need to spray a crop with a pesticide. Even though Dipel is organic, no one wants to spray if they don’t have to. It is expensive, time consuming, and not “targeted.” Even an organic pesticide can have negative side effects on the environment.
So in this argument, many farmers are starting to prefer BT varieties because it requires less maintenance, less chemicals, and less money. It is, however, a GMO which across the board has received a bad reputation in the marketplace.