Daily News Archive
Approves Genetically Engineered Corn for Human Consumption
Next time you sit
down to eat some corn, instead of corn kernels you may actually be eating
PIPs. That's PIPs, short for EPA's euphemistic "plant-incorporated
protectants" or genetically engineered corn. Without once mentioning
the words "genetically engineered" or "genetically modified,"
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on February 25 announced that
it had approved the use of "YieldGard Rootworm corn," what
the agency calls a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) plant-incorporated
protectant (PIP) to control corn rootworm. The new corn pest control,
referred to as "MON 863" and developed by Monsanto, produces
its own insecticide within the plant derived from Bt, a naturally occurring
soil bacterium. The Bt protein, called Cry3Bb1, controls corn rootworm,
a highly destructive pest that thrives in the large monoculture fields
associated with conventional chemical-intensive agriculture.
When applied traditionally as a spray in agriculture or as a dunk to control mosquito and black fly larvae, Bt has been proven to be relatively safe and effective. Organic farmers, who rely on Bt as a means of controlling pests, are concerned that the over-use of Bt, which is inevitable when Bt is genetically engineered into every cell of a plant, will lead to insect resistance and leave many farmers without an important tool of organic agriculture.
EPA will require Monsanto to ensure that 20 percent of the planted acreage of this product be set aside where non-Bt corn will be grown to serve as a "refuge." The agency says it's doing this to reduce the possibility of corn rootworm developing resistance to Bt. But leading scientists believe that 50 percent of the planted acreage is required to effectively reduce the chance of resistance. The theory goes that these refuge areas will support populations of corn rootworm not exposed to the Bt bacterium. If all goes well, the insect populations in the refuges will help prevent resistance development when they crossbreed with insects in the Bt fields. This resistance management strategy was developed as a condition of the registration, and EPA will require routine monitoring and documentation that these measures are followed. EPA does not address the issue of genetic drift, a situation where the genetic material from the engineered plant ends up in neighboring fields of natural crops.
"The EPA decided
to put short-term profits ahead of the long-term public good by agreeing
to Monsanto's refuge plan of 20 percent," says Gregory Jaffe, biotech
project director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest,
a non-profit organization that supports forms of genetically modified
crops. Jaffe does not believe that this genetically engineered crop
can be used safely with a 20 percent refuge.