The choice to support organic or conventionally raised corn is not a black and white issue.

Most of the corn grown in Illinois is natural in the sense that it looks and tastes like corn, but it is unnatural in the sense that the type of corn did not exist until scientists combined corn DNA with other organisms’ DNA to create a super-corn.

“Seventy-five percent of the corn grown in Illinois and 72 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. did not exist as they do 150 years ago,” said Phil Thornton, projects coordinatorfor the Illinois Corn Growers Association. “They take attractive properties of plants, bacteria and animals and combine them to make high-yield, disease-resistant corn.”

Since the first genetically modified plant was created in the 1970s, genetically modified corn, along with other crops, has become an agricultural staple. “According to the USDA, in 2000, 25 percent of the corn in the U.S. was [genetically engineered],” Thornton said. “In 2006, it was 55 percent, and in 2007, it is 75 percent.”

Also according to the USDA, since the 1970s, corn yield per acre has doubled, and organic supporters, along with the agribusiness supporters, want to take credit.

“When raising crops organically, the soil is healthier because one uses less chemicals and rotates between different crops that keep the soil rich in nutrients,” said Craig Minowa, environmental scientist with Organic Consumers Association. “After a few years, the yield is higher than with GMO crops.”

“It doesn’t make sense not to use GMOs,” said Thornton, a proponent of agribusiness. “Studies show the yield is two to three percent higher with GMOs. Because of the disease resistance in the seed, there is less need for pesticides. More of the corn survives per acre to feed the growing population.”

However, the truth may lie somewhere in the middle.

“Organic crops need to be rotated to get good yields, but what if there is not a demand for the rotated crop?” said Dale Baird, crop systems extension educator for University of Illinois extension. “But also, what if a beetle becomes resistant to the insecticide in more than half of our crops?”

Tests performed on GMO crops have been inconclusive about their harm to the environment, and numerous tests contradict each other concerning whether conventional or organic grown crops get higher yields.

“The support one gives is by voting with your dollar,” Minowa said.