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A Sweet Corn Conversation On GMOs

Consumers often don't understand their choices: Sweet corn with worms, sweet corn treated with insecticide or GMO sweet corn with neither.

 Every day, GMO – that scrunched-down term for genetically-modified organism – is in the news, on social media or in somebody’s blog. Heck, I’ve even been hearing commercials on our local country radio station about them.

One caught me off guard. “Can it be? Did I just hear that right – a local produce grower in our county running a commercial for GMO-free sweet corn?”

A few minutes after I heard that commercial, my phone rings. A familiar voice on the other end asks: "Did you just hear what I heard on the radio?"

I'd heard it all right. I was surprised the farm was growing non-GMO’s for one. I was even more surprised they were using it in their marketing campaign.

Later that day, a non-farmer friend told me about hearing that commercial and how “that non-GMO stuff is so much better [than GMO corn].” I asked if he knew what GMOs really were. I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t know the difference. I'd guess most people don’t.

The conversation

So I put on my corn grower’s hat and began explaining the difference. The conversation went like this:

Me: "Would you rather eat sweet corn that someone sprayed to kill the ear worms or would you rather eat one that didn’t need spraying?"

My friend: "No, I don’t want to eat one that’s been sprayed."

Me: "So now you’re telling me two different things. First, you told me 'non-GMO stuff is so much better.' Now you’re telling me you'd rather eat GMO corn."

My friend had a “cornfused” look, so I continued.

Me: "GMO seed has a gene in it that resists ear worms that would eat the corn, so there's no reason to spray that corn for worms. There is a chance, however, that the non-GMO corn has been sprayed with an insecticide to kill the worms. The only person who knows for sure is the producer. Tell me now which type you'd rather eat?"

My friend: "The GMO stuff sounds scrumptious to me!"

The general public has very limited knowledge about the terms actually mean. Many think non-GMO and organic are the same thing.

As farmers, it's our job to help educate the public. It can start with a friend, a neighbor or with the mail lady. One person at a time may not seem like much. But that one person will pass it on, and the word will spread. Start spreading the word!

Mike Reskovac is president of Pennsylvania Corn Growers Association. The Reskovacs farm near Uniontown, Pa. Read all their "Two Hearts, One Harvest" columns in American Agriculturist.

This opinion is not necessarily that of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.

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