Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Action Alert: Monsanto’s Latest GE Corn
In August 1999, Monsanto petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve a new variety of corn genetically engineered to kill corn rootworms, important pests in the U.S. Corn Belt. The corn has been engineered to produce a specific toxin originally derived from a soil microorganism, bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Bt corn varieties that have been grown commercially in the United States since 1996 target European corn borers, whose adult stage is a moth. Monsanto’s new variety of Bt corn is the first to target corn rootworms, whose adult stage is a beetle. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) calls on EPA to deny approval of Monsanto’s new corn variety because of inadequate testing for environmental impacts and lack of a credible resistance-management strategy.
EPA is reviewing company data on the new crop and is expected to make a decision later this year whether or not to allow the Bt-corn seeds on the market. The public comment period on the application ends March 20. Write to EPA and urge the Agency to deny Monsanto’s application.
Corn rootworms have become major pests in some parts of the Corn Belt–costing growers hundreds of millions of dollars each year in reduced yields and insecticide use. For the last few decades, many farmers have kept corn rootworms under control by using either insecticides or rotating corn and soybeans. The two-crop rotation held the rootworms in check because the adults laid eggs in corn fields and then died off when that field was rotated to soybeans. Recently, however, some of the pests have adapted to the two-crop rotation by laying their eggs in soybean fields so the worms have a ready food source the next summer when the field is rotated to corn.
Past control of corn rootworms by alternating corn and soybeans is a testament to the power of crop rotation to suppress pests, although sustainable farmers generally recommend three-to-six-year rotations as a more effective method. Had multiple-crop rotations rather than continuous corn or two-crop rotations been the norm the past few decades, corn rootworms would in all likelihood not be the problem they are today.
Action: Write EPA and tell them not to approve commercialization of Bt corn targeted at rootworms because:
1. Monsanto has submitted only an outline of a resistance-management strategy. Because rootworms present different problems than corn borers, the company will need to do considerably more research before it can devise a comprehensive plan to delay the evolution of resistance to Bt in corn rootworms.
2. Monsanto has not submitted data needed to conduct a rigorous ecological risk assessment. For example, the company submission does not contain sufficient data to evaluate potential impacts of Bt-toxin-containing root exudates on soil beetles.
3. The Agency itself does not yet have in place a strong program to ensure that all potential environmental impacts of Bt crops are fully evaluated. Public confidence in EPA’s ability to protect against the risks of engineered crops was badly shaken last summer when the Agency failed to even note the possible effects of Bt-corn pollen on monarch butterflies. Before it approves any more Bt crops, the Agency must establish a scientifically credible framework for ecological risk assessment.
Send comments before March 20 to:
Public Information and Records Integrity Branch (PIRIB)
Include the docket control number OPP-30487 on all correspondence.
For further information:
* Institute for Agricultural Trade and Policy, Science and Environmental Health Network, and Consumer Policy Institute/Consumers Union, “Comments Submitted to Docket Number OPP-50864: Application for an Experimental Use Permit for Cry3Bb Transgenic Corn,” January 7, 2000. http://www.biotech-info.net/rootworm.html.
* Saxena, D. et al., “Insecticidal toxin in root exudates from Bt corn,” Nature 402:480, 1999. http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v402/n6761/full/402480a0_fs.html.