Opponents of Monsanto's new genetically modified sweet corn are petitioning national food retailers and processors to ban the biotech corn, which is not labeled as being genetically altered from conventional corn.
A coalition of health, food safety and environmental organizations said they have collected more than 264,000 petition signatures from consumers who do not want to buy the corn.
The coalition includes the Center for Environmental Health, the Center for Food Safety, and Food & Water Watch. It said it is pressing 10 of the top national retail grocery stores to ban the corn, including Wal-Mart, Kroger and Safeway. It is also asking top canned and frozen corn processors including Bird's Eye and Del Monte to ban the modified corn.
The coalition said General Mills and Trader Joe's have already indicated that they will not be using the Monsanto biotech sweet corn in their products.
The coalition said the biotech corn would be used in canned and frozen foods as well as sold fresh, but will be indistinguishable to consumers from conventional corn because the U.S. government does not require genetically altered food products to be labeled.
"Consumers deserve to know what's in their food, especially when there is a pesticide in every bite," said Charles Margulis of the Center for Environmental Health. "This whole, unprocessed corn has been spliced with genes that produce a risky, untested insecticide. Parents should be informed when food on supermarket shelves has been genetically altered."
Monsanto, the world's largest seed company and a developer of genetically altered corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops, said in August it was preparing to launch a genetically altered sweet corn that marks Monsanto's first commercial combination of its biotechnology with a consumer-oriented vegetable product.
The sweet corn seed has been genetically altered to tolerate treatment of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, and to fight off insects that might attack the plants.
Monsanto officials said they were surprised their new product was generating so much controversy, as a rival seed company has already been marketing a biotech sweet corn for more than a decade.
"The safety and benefits of biotech sweet corn products -- as well as other biotech crops -- is well established," said Monsanto spokeswoman Danielle Stuart.
Stuart said the new sweet corn is a fresh-market product that will be sold on the ear, with or without husk, in the produce section of grocery stores.
Sweet corn makes up about 1 percent of total corn acreage in the United States.
Critics say they are worried that genetically altered crops, including the new sweet corn, pose environmental and health risks that include food allergies and unknown long-term health effects. They also say the herbicide-resistant crops are fueling a rise in "super weeds" that are hard to control because they are resistant to herbicide, and in many areas of the country the weeds are so prevalent they are limiting crop production.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam; editing by Andrea Evans and Jim Marshall)