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Posted on Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 11:59 a.m.

Why I stopped eating popcorn at the movies: genetically modified organisms

By Corinna Borden

David vs. Goliath. Ma & Pa corner store vs. Big Box stores. These are images that resonate with all of us.

As I debate between purple carrots from Johnny’s Seeds in Maine and cucumbers shaped like apples from Seed Saver’s Exchange, it is easy for me to ignore the big box equivalent of seed companies: DuPont, Dow Chemical, Syngenta, BASF, Bayer CropScience and, of course, Monsanto.

I am very happy to ignore them because every time I actively think about them I can feel my blood pressure rising. My blood pressure pounds in my ears because of GMO (genetically modified organisms). A recent article in The New York Times threw a spark onto the pool of gasoline that washes around my belly regarding this issue. The article was about the rapid rise in seed prices and the concern the administration has about the monopoly certain companies have on the seed market.

“Agriculture Department figures show that corn seed prices have risen 135 percent since 2001. Soybean prices went up 108 percent over that period. By contrast, the Consumer Price Index rose only 20 percent in that period.”

Borden - Hershey's syrup with GMO label

Our food is labeled when it is imported into England - note the message "This product may Contain GMOs," under the address for the UK importer of this Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, courtesy of the high fructose corn syrup.

Photo courtesy of Heather Gilderdale

The lack of competition means that companies can charge more and their rationale for doing so is the amount of research they need to do to create more GMO seeds. According to the article, “more than 90 percent of soybeans and more than 80 percent of the corn grown in this country are genetically engineered.”

We insert DNA to make certain plants resistant to certain herbicides (mostly Roundupâ„¢, or glyphosate) so the farmer can spray fields without having to worry about damaging the crops. We insert genes into a plant’s DNA to make them more resistant to certain diseases because the plant itself produces its own bioinsecticide. We combine those traits together. Why not?

And the names are out of a science fiction comic book: Genuity™ Bollgard II® with Roundup Ready Flex Cotton, Genuity™ Roundup Ready® Canola, Genuity™ Roundup Ready® Flex Cotton, Roundup Ready Corn 2, YieldGard Corn Borer, YieldGard Plus with Roundup Ready Corn 2, and YieldGard Rootworm.

The same people who engineer plants resistant to certain insecticides manufacture those same pesticides. So you need to purchase both. It is not surprising the government is concerned about monopoly practices.

GMO plants were introduced to the U.S. market in the 1990s. I did not know they existed until I went to England and read on labels that a product was “GMO free." What is a GMO? I had no idea, but I soon learned, no thanks to our system of labeling in this country.

Corn, soybeans, canola and cotton are the plants that are the most likely to be genetically modified. Vegetable oil made from these plants (today is not the day for the hydrogenation discussion) is everywhere in our industrial food chain.

I am a fan of David, of Ma & Pa stores and of not putting a food into my body that is capable of giving off its own pesticide. I am a fan of not planting plants that could infiltrate our entire collection of seeds, breeding into who knows what (pollen doesn’t understand real estate boundaries). I am a fan of having genetically modified food labeled in this country, so that I can choose with my eyes wide open.

Until that day, I just eat carefully, and sometime my choice is one of sadness. One of my favorite treats when I was growing up was popcorn at the movies. Hot, salty, warm and perfect. Roundup Ready Soybeans â„¢ and YieldGard Rootworm with Roundup Ready Corn 2 â„¢ took that treat away from me. 

Corinna runs the Westside Farmers Market and blogs about all things food related (though her book is about something completely different).



Mon, Apr 5, 2010 : 9:24 a.m.

I agree with treetowncartel in that GMO foods may be part of the problem with the dying bee population. We are dependent on bees to pollinate so much of our crops. How would we ever replace them?

Jennifer Kangas

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 11:07 a.m.

Seed saving of GMO seeds is a violation of the agreement with the seed manufacturer. This I understand - protection of intellectual property and a way for the companies to make back their investment. However, if the GMO seed crosses with non-GMO, then the seed companies can claim this hybrid is also their property. Pollen drifts. Small farmers have been sued for saving seed that has been "contaminated" with GMO seed.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 10:53 a.m.

How are they "screwing the farmers"? The farmer has to look at everything that goes into producing his crops, and the profit he gets from selling them. If the GMO seeds cost more than the extra yields and reduced herbicide/pesticide/labor costs save, they aren't worth using. Farmers are free to use non-GMO seeds, so I don't see how Monsanto could be "screwing the farmers".


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 10:31 a.m.

Wow, quite a maelstrom of comments. Couple things here: labeling and making the food you eat an informed choice is good. After you've read the label, if you still want to trust "Big Ag" and whatever crap they've inserted into our "food," at least you've been given the choice and the reasons why it might not be the best idea. Also, did anyone else notice the whole "we need to make seeds more expensive to cover R&D costs"? Sounds like a line out of "Big Pharma's" playbook. Perhaps we should take a look at their profits before we buy that load of crap from any big corporation. They seem to be doing fine making tons of money off of GMOs and screwing the farmers.


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 10:23 a.m.

Great discussion... here are a couple of things to consider. The United States has the cheapest, most abundant and safest food supply on this earth; grown by hard-working folks who make a decent living while working harder and taking more risks with capital than 90 percent of their fellow citizens. The comment, "We insert DNA to make certain plants resistant to certain insecticides (mostly Roundup, or glyphosate) so the farmer can spray fields without having to worry about damaging the crops. " is simply inaccurate. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and is a herbicide not an insecticide; it has little or not mammalian toxicity and it binds exceedingly tightly to soil particulates so is not much concern. Biotech efforts have indeed inserted DNA from existing soil organisms that produce proteins targeting Lepidoptera & Diabrotica insects and make them sick so they stop eating and die. These proteins have no mammalian effects. Consider that these targeted insects would normally be chopping on your food & fiber and destroying yield -- thereby decreasing supply and increasing food & fiber prices. Instead of applying insecticides to control these pesky insects farmers willingly have decided to purchase seeds with genes inserted - that exisit in nature and are merely inserted into a different specie - that create proteins that stop insect feeding shortly thereafter. So the inserted transgene drastically reduces the amount of insecticide applied to U.S. farms; in the neighborhood of millions of pounds per year that no longer are applied due to these transgenes. This is a great thing! Yes, there are those skeptics who what "all natural and organic" and I surely beleive that markets exist to supply this relatively small, highly profitable market. Isn't capitalism cool?! No problem! However, it isn't cool when these folks decide for the rest of us that we can't eat what WE WANT; we're supposed to eat what they want! And might I add, at higher prices! That is, organic yields are necessarily lower due to more insect losses and therefore prices are necessarily higher. Oh no, those damn laws of supply and demand again and free markets. Thank you Adam Smith! So in summary, I want to encourage Westside Farmers Market to have a wonderful even glorious spring, but please don't step on my food supply! I want safe, abundant and cheap food. Thanks!


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 9:40 a.m.

The US should strive to be more like the UK regarding food safety laws.


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 10:06 p.m.

gmo (genetically modified organism) sounds like such an icky name! ew, frankenfoods.


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 8:47 p.m.

It has been interesting reading the comments on both sides. I know very few details about how this process works but I DO think the labels in this country should be accurate and revealing.

Raggety Andy

Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 5:02 p.m.

I love the reliance on wikipedia as reputable source... I'm sorry but the "trust the corporation" crowd has much to learn. Big Ag is odious, not just for GMOs but for a number of other reasons like trademarking seeds, factory farms, price manipulation, etc. The best solution is to vote with your fork. Buy local, buy organic, learn how to preserve fruits and vegetables so that they are available in the off season. Most of all EDUCATE YOURSELF!


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 3:31 p.m.

"I am a fan of David, of Ma & Pa stores and of not putting a food into my body that is capable of giving off its own pesticide" This is just embarrassing. How the heck do you think most plants protect themselves from insects? What do you think our selective breeding of plants for the last 10,000 years has been for? Education and caution are great. Eating well is awesome and everyone should cook food from raw ingredients as much as possible. Big business shouldn't be doing dangerous things with our chow. HOWEVER, it seems like everyone here is ignoring the simple fact that there's a "natural food" industry out there that exists only because it's able to scare you into eating their products. Understand that 90% of what you read in the magazines sold at Whole Foods is unproven, unscientific garbage designed to trick you into spending more money. Reserve at least a teeny tiny bit of your skepticism for the fraudsters trying to freak you out about every item you stuff in your mouth. They're every bit as dangerous as Monsanto.

Matt McCallum

Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 3:25 p.m.

Don't worry it is safe to eat popcorn at the movies! This story is very inaccurate and misleading. I have been in the fruit and vegetable growing industry my entire life and publish magazines for fruit and vegetable growers - and no I don't work for a chemical company. Yes it is true that 80% of "field" corn grown in the U.S. is GMO - but that is corn grown to feed livestock, make ethanol and corn sweeteners. Popcorn and sweet corn are different kinds of corn and none of the varieties grown today are GMO. There are no vegetable or fruit GMO varieties on the market. So please get your facts right before you scare people to death! Go ahead at all the popcorn you like!

Sue Talbert

Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 9:53 p.m.

Thanks for bringing that point up, Matt. Popcorn is not genetically engineered; in fact, one article I read indicated that its very nature (that it POPS) makes it immune to cross-pollination, as well, so there are apparently no concerns about GMO-corn cross-pollinating popcorn plants, either.

Dante Marcos

Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 3:02 p.m.

It's one thing for Big Ag to develop dangerous new food technologies; it's another for them to aggressively destroy the small farmers who attempt to either buck the trend, or practice old-fashioned farming. That's something that should set Tea Partiers and other conservatives against Big Ag, no? Ah, but the human intellect is an odd thing...

David Briegel

Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 2:58 p.m.

My exhaustive research reveals the simple fact that the Michigan Theater has the best buttered popcorn in the world. I don't care about it's origins or anything else at all! I get it any chance I can for movies or concerts. I even make it my dinner sometimes!!

Adam Jaskiewicz

Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 2:26 p.m.

I don't have a problem with genetic modification in and of itself. I do think that some of the particular modifications that big companies are doing are kinda scary, though. It's something I've been meaning to read up on.


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 1:08 p.m.

Stewart Brand covers genetic engineering in "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto": It's not scary once it's explained. Monsanto may be run by twits but their scientists are decent. Roundup-Ready seeds require a fraction of the pesticides that non-engineered seeds do so on balance it's cheaper for farmers and far less toxic to the environment. Better yet, GE seeds make it easier to ditch pesticides entirely and follow other organic farming practices. The precision you get with GE is very likely safer than traditional trial-and-error plant breeding. But eco-religion sells better than science these days.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 12:59 p.m.

"engineered the seeds so that the crop plant would not produce its own viable seeds" "Life will find a way."


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 12:56 p.m.

There are valid concerns about our food supply, but I'm definitely detecting a bias in's content on this issue. Shouldn't there be some kind of balance in your presentation? It's been one harangue after another. "Genetic modification" of foods has been practiced for centuries in the form of selective breeding, and it's responsible for the abundance that feeds much of the planet.


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 12:52 p.m.

There is indeed a worrisome trend here. there is some news out today about the effect of pesticides on bees, which we depend on for one-third of our crops if not more. Truly frightening, We really need to stop messing with nature in this regard.

John of Saline

Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 12:44 p.m.

Some of this is typical anti-corporate bias. A decade or so ago, the seed companies, in response to people worried that a new, engineered crop might spread as a "superplant" in the wild, engineered the seeds so that the crop plant would not produce its own viable seeds. When they did THAT, the seed companies were accused of vile profiteering for not allowing farmers to use the standard practice of saving some of a crop to use as next year's seed. So there, the argument was set up to be no-win by design. I'm not saying there aren't valid criticisms out there. There are. But just make sure it's based on facts and not a reflexive "It's Monsanto, so it must be evil" reaction. I'm just glad we haven't become like Europe, where completely unscientific, blind fear of GMOs has led to widespread bans. Even some African nations have banned imports, sometimes of donations meant to go to the hungry!

dading dont delete me bro

Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 11:59 a.m.

oh geez, now i have SOMETHING ELSE to worry about. how am i going to get any sleep now?


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 9:42 a.m.

Well I will definitely assure you that since Obama has appointed an ex-Monsanto executive to a high ranking role in the FDA, it will be very hard for any change to take place. Our agriculture and food system in general are so twisted that it is possible to buy a McDonald's hamburger cheaper than it is to buy a head of lettuce. Appalling. We, as a nation need to stop being so complacent and start learning about what goes into our food and break this system of control by multinational corporations who try and patent the DNA of pigs(Monsanto) in order to collect royalties from hog farmers. Demand organics in our stores, shop at the farmers markets and not Wal-Mart, grow a garden. Anything you can to curb your independence on GMO's.

Jennifer Kangas

Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 8:10 a.m.

We heard Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, speak at the MOFFA Conference. Wow! The real effect of combining the DNA of pesticides with the seed's DNA is not known. But, there are studies which have been buried by large corporations, and not fully pursued by researchers due to possible loss of funding, which link GMO food to death of rat fetuses, smaller rat fetuses, decrease of oxygen absorption by the bloodstream,, increase in allergy rates, severe contact rashes in workers that pick BT cotton, etc. etc. etc. The problem is that the seeds were introduced without proper testing - basically it's OK until we find out otherwise. And, as the author points out, the seed companies also own the pesticides and herbicides so they're profiting on both ends. While it has been argued that GMO seed will allow us to feed the world, Jeffrey Smith reported that the actual costs to produce have gone up due to increased applications of the chemicals. Not to mention the fact that we're destroying the soil through these applications. We're probably not going to get anywhere by asking the administration to help facilitate change. But, if consumers demand GMO-free food, we might succeed. It is said that if just 10% of us ask for it, and alter our buying habits to GMO-free food, the producers will notice this loss in sales and begin to stock it. Apparently this is what happened in Europe. Unilever moved over to GMO-free products and everyone followed. We can do it! Speak with the managers at the stores and ask that they stock GMO-free food. We also need to call the producers and ask the same. I called Jolly Time and they said their kernels are GMO free and most of popcorn is still GMO free. But, the canola oil, flavorings, etc. in the microwave packaging isn't. I also called Kellogg's and asked that they make GMO-free Corn Flakes. I called Jiffy and asked they do the same. If enough of us request it, maybe we can get the labeling and just maybe we can get GMO-free food.