Thursday, September 8, 2011

Science denied

Monsanto Denies Superinsect Science
By Tom Philpott
Mother Jones
September 8, 2011

As far back as 2002, scientists have been warning that bugs would develop resistance to Monsanto’s Bt corn.

As the summer growing season draws to a close, 2011 is emerging as the year of the superinsect—the year pests officially developed resistance to Monsanto’s genetically engineered (ostensibly) bug-killing corn [1].

While the revelation has given rise to alarming headlines, neither Monsanto nor the EPA, which regulates pesticides and pesticide-infused crops, can credibly claim surprise. Scientists have been warning that the EPA’s rules for planting the crop were too lax to prevent resistance since before the agency approved the crop in 2003. And in 2008, research funded by Monsanto itself showed that resistance was an obvious danger.

And now those unheeded warnings are proving prescient. In late July, as I reported recently, scientists in Iowa documented the existence of corn rootworms [2] (a ravenous pest that attacks the roots of corn plants) that can happily devour corn plants that were genetically tweaked specifically to kill them. Monsanto’s corn, engineered to express a toxic gene from a bacterial insecticide called Bt, now accounts for 65 percent of the corn planted in the US [3].

The superinsect scourge has also arisen in Illinois and Minnesota. “Monsanto Co. (MON)’s insect-killing corn is toppling over in northwestern Illinois fields, a sign that rootworms outside of Iowa may have developed resistance to the genetically modified crop,” reports Bloomberg [4]. In southern Minnesota, adds Minnesota Public Radio [5], an entomologist has found corn rootworms thriving, Bt corn plants drooping, in fields.

[Read More…]

Friday, September 2, 2011

Corn not killing pests

Monsanto biotech corn not killing pests, research finds
By Georgina Gustin
September 2, 2011

Scientists sounded the alarm years ago, but now their predictions appear to be an encroaching reality: Monsanto’s biotech corn is showing signs, they say, that it no longer repels the pests it is engineered to kill.

Last month, researchers from Iowa State University published a study showing that the western corn rootworm — a major crop pest and yield-reducer — is surviving after ingesting an insecticidal toxin produced by the corn plants. A University of Illinois professor says he believes the same thing could be happening in fields in northwestern Illinois.

The problem, if it spreads, could mean that farmers will lose a critical tool in managing pests — and the Creve Coeur-based biotech and seed giant could lose ground on a profitable technology.

The corn, which Monsanto launched in 2003, is engineered to produce a protein, known as Cry3Bb1, derived from a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. The rootworms ingest the roots of this “Bt corn,” as it’s referred to in the industry, and the protein is fatal.

But the Iowa team determined that in some fields with heavy populations of rootworm the Bt corn was not killing the rootworm. The study, the scientists said, is the first report of resistance to the toxin in the field, but more are probably on the way, some scientists believe.

[Read More…]

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Root damage to Bt corn

Severe root damage to Bt corn confirmed in northwestern Illinois
By Jennifer Shike
College of ACES, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
August 24, 2011

Severe root damage observed in Bt corn in northwestern Illinois last week should alert growers to carefully consider 2012 seed selection choices, said Mike Gray, University of Illinois Extension entomologist.

On August 16, Gray verified severe corn rootworm pruning on some Bt hybrids that express the Cry3Bb1 protein in Henry and Whiteside counties located in northwestern Illinois. The fields were in continuous corn production systems for many years, and the producers had relied upon Bt hybrids that expressed the Cry3Bb1 protein as their primary protection against western corn rootworm injury.

Lodged plants were common in many areas of the fields, and western corn rootworm adults were numerous and easy to collect. He also found plants with two to three nodes of roots completely destroyed. A shovel was not required for removing the plants from the soil, Gray said.

“Unfortunately, yield losses will be significant in these fields,” he added. “In early July, severe storms swept through northern Illinois and caused significant lodging of many cornfields.”

Earlier this month Aaron Gassman of Iowa State University confirmed field-evolved resistance by western corn rootworm to the Cry3Bb1 protein in an Iowa study. Resistant western corn rootworm adults were collected by Gassmann from continuous cornfields in northeastern Iowa where significant root damage had occurred. These Iowa fields had been planted with Bt hybrids expressing the Cry3Bb1 protein, Gray said.

The situations in Iowa and Illinois share some common features, he said. Adults were collected from the Illinois fields in question and will be further evaluated for potential resistance.

“I urge you to be very cautious in your choice of hybrids offering corn rootworm protection in light of these developments in Iowa and northwestern Illinois,” Gray said. “Many producers have utilized a single-tactic approach for too many years, and now unfortunate consequences are beginning to emerge.”

[Read More…]

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Monsanto’s GM sweet corn

Monsanto launching its first biotech sweet corn
By Carey Gillam
August 04, 2011

ST. LOUIS, Missouri - Monsanto Co. is preparing to launch a genetically altered sweet corn, marking the global seed company’s first commercial combination of its biotechnology with a consumer-oriented vegetable product.

The sweet corn seed, which will be available to farmers this fall, has been genetically altered to tolerate treatment of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, and to fight off insects that might attack the plants, said Consuelo Madere, Monsanto vice president of the company’s global vegetable business. The “triple-stack” sweet corn is aimed at the fresh market, a relatively small market sector with total U.S. plantings of about 250,000 acres, said Madere. She declined to say how large of a launch the company was making, only to say it would be “very, very small.”

Though this is Monsanto’s first biotech vegetable launch, Madere said other companies have already brought genetically altered vegetables to market and she did not anticipate significant consumer backlash.

“This is our first launch. We think it is a good product and we’ll work to make sure we educate folks to the benefits,” she said.

Monsanto’s vegetable unit is anchored by Seminis, which it acquired in 2005, and is distinct from Monsanto’s mammoth seed business for field crops like corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. For the most recent quarter, vegetable seed sales totaled $216 million out of more than $2.6 billion in total seed and genomic sales.

Since buying Seminis, Monsanto has been expanding its holdings in the vegetable seed arena. Still, while Monsanto is known for its expertise in plant biotechnology, the vegetable unit has only a few genetically altered products in its pipeline because non-biotech breeding techniques are more cost-effective than biotech for vegetable seeds, said Madere.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Refuge requirement ignored

More corn farmers ignoring Bt corn refuge requirement
Carmi Times
May 13, 2011

Champaign, Ill. - More than 90 percent of Illinois corn producers polled at the University of Illinois Extension Corn and Soybean Classic meetings indicated that they planned to plant corn that was genetic ally modified with the insect-killing protein Bacillus thuringiensis this spring.

Commercially available since 1996, Bt corn is resistant to European corn borers, western corn rootworm and other crop-destroying insects.

However, significantly fewer - just 75-80 percent - of them said that they also planned to comply with the U.S . Environmental Protection Agency’s requirement that they plant 20 percent of their corn acreage with non-Bt seed. The non-Bt seed creates refuges that prevent or delay the development of genetic resistance among insects by ensuring that an ample supply remains susceptible to the Bt toxin, a naturally occurring soil bacterium, and pass that susceptibility on to their offspring.

Another 5-10 percent of the growers indicated that they would not plant any refuge acres.

[Read More…]

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