Tags: Monsanto | Corn | Kill | Bugs

Monsanto Corn May Be Failing to Kill Bugs, EPA Says

Friday, 02 December 2011 03:50 PM

Monsanto Co. corn that’s genetically engineered to kill insects may be losing its effectiveness against rootworms in four states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

Rootworms in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska are suspected of developing tolerance to the plants’ insecticide, based on documented cases of severe crop damage and reports from entomologists, the EPA said in a memo dated Nov. 22 and posted Nov. 30 on a government website. Monsanto’s program for monitoring suspected cases of resistance is “inadequate,” the EPA said.

“Resistance is suspected in at least some portions of four states in which ‘unexpected damage’ reports originated,” the EPA said in the memo, which reviewed damage reports.

The insects, which begin life as root-chewing grubs before developing into adult beetles, are among the most destructive corn pests, costing U.S. farmers about $1 billion a year in damages and chemical pesticides, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Monsanto fell 2.5 percent to $72.40 at 9:54 a.m. in New York, the third-biggest decline among companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Introduced in 2003

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, introduced its rootworm-killing corn technology in 2003. The modified corn was planted on more than 37 million acres this year, Lee Quarles, a spokesman for St. Louis-based Monsanto, said yesterday. Monsanto also sells corn engineered to kill other insects and to tolerate its Roundup herbicide, helping make corn Monsanto’s largest business, accounting for 41 percent of its $11.8 billion of sales during the fiscal year ended Aug. 31.

An Iowa State University study said in July that some rootworms have evolved resistance to an insect-killing protein derived from Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a natural insecticide engineered into Monsanto corn. Entomologists in Illinois and other Midwestern states are studying possible resistance where the insects devour roots of Monsanto’s Bt corn.

Monsanto continues to believe there’s no scientific confirmation of resistance to its Bt corn, Quarles said by telephone. Still, Monsanto takes the EPA report “seriously” and is increasing efforts to teach farmers how to respond to unexpected damage in their fields, he said.

‘Stay Ahead’

Less than 0.2 percent of the acres planted with Monsanto’s Bt corn were affected by unexpected rootworm damage this year, Quarles said. Farmers with root damage in their fields should consider changing practices to “stay ahead of this insect,” Monsanto said in a statement. That could include rotating corn with soybeans or using a product such as Monsanto’s SmartStax corn, which kills rootworms with two types of Bt, the company said.

The agency said in the memo that SmartStax could lose its effectiveness if it’s planted in fields where bugs have developed a tolerance to Monsanto’s Bt gene, known as CRY3bB1. That’s because SmartStax’s effectiveness is predicated on both types of Bt working as designed. SmartStax corn produces the second type of Bt, called Cry34/35, with a gene licensed from Dow Chemical Co.

To deter resistance to all types of Bt corn, the EPA requires farmers who use the modified crop to also plant corn that doesn’t produce the pesticide. The agency reasons that bugs in the so-called refuge that are not exposed to the toxin will mate with any resistant rootworms, creating a new generation of insects that are once again susceptible to the insecticide.

Remedial Plan

The EPA’s requirement of a refuge equal to at least 5 percent of a SmartStax crop, compared with 20 percent for Bt corn, “will be substantially less durable and could ultimately compromise the second unrelated toxin used to control the pest (i.e in this case Cry34/35)” if insects are already resistant to Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1, the agency said in the memo.

Monsanto should enact a remedial action plan in fields where resistance to its Bt insecticide is suspected, the EPA said. That includes having growers use conventional pesticide to kill adult rootworm beetles late in the season and alternate pest control methods in the following season.

Monsanto tested rootworms for resistance in Nebraska, Illinois and Iowa and should expand the monitoring to Colorado, Minnesota, South Dakota and western Wisconsin because questions about the performance of Bt corn extends to all seven states, the EPA said in the memo.

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Monsanto Co. corn that s genetically engineered to kill insects may be losing its effectiveness against rootworms in four states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said. Rootworms in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska are suspected of developing tolerance to the...
Friday, 02 December 2011 03:50 PM
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