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How to identify genetically modified corn
Corn is one of the most cultivated grains in the world and is an important part of the diet for humans and animals. It’s no wonder that the USA honor this versatile grain with their own holiday, National Maize Day. However, corn is also criticized because it is often genetically modified.
The grain with the scientific name Zea mays originally comes from Mexico. Today, the plant is cultivated on all continents and has long since been used for more than just food. In fact, corn is an important commodity in many areas:
- Food ingredient: In South America and Africa, corn is a staple food, as well as in the gluten-free diet
- Animal feed: Most of the world’s corn crop is used as livestock feed
- Everyday items: Corn is often added to toothpaste, dish detergent, paper or cosmetics
- Energy production: Corn can be used to produce renewable, environmentally friendly fuel (ethanol)
- Bioplastics: Corn is also used to produce renewable, bio-based plastics that are used, for example, for disposable tableware, packaging or toys
Genetically modified corn
Since the 1990s, the global cultivation of genetically modified crops has been steadily increasing. Today, genetically modified (GMO) corn is cultivated in 14 countries and on every continent: in the USA, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Canada, the Philippines, Paraguay, Uruguay, Spain, Vietnam, Colombia, Honduras, Chile and Portugal. GMO corn is mostly created to resist insect pests. For example, genetically modified Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn itself produces a type of insecticide: a protein that is toxic to certain insect pests but harmless to other animals and humans. It also does not harm beneficial insects such as ladybugs. In fact, preparations containing Bt proteins are also used by organic farmers to control insect pests. Thus, Bt corn reduces the need for spraying insecticides.
Detection of GMO corn
Food and feed containing genetically modified organisms must be labeled in the EU. In addition, there are seals such as “GMO-free” or “VLOG tested”, which have even stricter specifications and allow consumers even more transparency with regard to the origin and production of the food. To do this, the food must be tested for the presence of GMOs. Detection of whether plants are genetically modified is achieved by screening DNA sequences that do not occur naturally in plants. Using real-time PCR tests, such gene sequences can be reliably identified and also quantified.