H/t to Kenny Solomon for bringing this to my attention.
Oh Lisa, Lisa Jackson? Wherefore art thou, Miss Lisa Chair of the EPA? No presser on this one? Only one on your plan to bankrupt coal?
No, this is not an article about endangered bugs, but endangered corn. Above is a picture of the adult western corn rootworm. It infects corn: ya know that stuff we and farmers depend on a lot for food, export and livelihood. Well, these little buggers and other rootworms have been a thorn in the side of farmers for quite some time and in the past pesticides were used to get rid of them.
In the 1990’s Monsanto had the idea of building into some of its corn seed a natural toxin to this little creature, a genetically engineered corn seed containing the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or “Bt” for short.
With the approval of the EPA, who was glad to know that farmers would be able to dump a lot of insecticide usage in combating this little creature, not to mention the ecstasy of environmentalists, Bt-corn was born and was launched in 2003. For those farmers using Bt corn seed the EPA decreed that Monsanto was to instruct farmers to plant a “refuge crop” of non-Bt corn alongside so that mating would occur between the rootworm of both crops thus diluting any resistant strain, but the size of the “refuge crop” was in disagreement. Monsanto supposedly argued for a 20% refuge when scientists had recommended 50%.
For a few years Bt corn was a rousing success and farmers saw increased yields of corn production. But then nature always seems to find a way eventually around man’s supposed *successes* and stories and studies are coming to light that this *miracle corn* which contains its very own little big-killer has begun to stop working.
Just like cockroaches have survived nuclear bombs, and DDT lost its efficacy, and we now have *super bugs* which have become resistant to many antibiotics, and the *super weeds* are becoming resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, the corn rootworm seems to have been able in many places to become resistant to Bacillus thuringiensis. Bad news for farmers, bad news for environmentalists and bad news for Monsanto.
And it appears the EPA may have dropped the ball and not kept an eagle eye on this like it was supposed to. I don’t normally read Mother Jones but for once they have a good group of articles on the subject which are substantiated elsewhere. The states at this point most affected are Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska with suspected areas in Wisconsin, South Dakota and Colorado. The rootworm begins devouring the corn from the root upward, hence its name and most times farmers are unaware their crop has been infected until they see the below:
The corn stalks just topple over and there is no saving them. The EPA put out a 20-page memo in November of 2011 discussing Monsanto’s failed resistance monitoring of the rootworm. Basically the EPA concluded:
- Monsanto proposed to collect insects from problem fields within 1-2 miles [emphasis mine and a huh??, 1-2 miles? ] from neighboring sites of failed fields [page 2]
- Monsanto’s “greater than expected damage” threshold was too high
- Monsanto concluded that farmers not rotating crops were the cause of the increased number of rootworms and therefore kept their threshold too high
- Many of Monsanto’s reports were unclear about the number of insects in a given area and whether or not they were adults or larvae
So the EPA’s instructions are in cases of suspected resistance, Monsanto will instruct growers to do one or more of the following [page 6]:
- During the present season, use conventional insecticides to control the adult stage of the suspected pest;
- During the following season, use an alternative pest control method to deter establishment of potentially resistant insects.
So we are back to using pesticides again. Wasn’t this supposed to be the purpose of developing a genetically engineered product, to lessen the use of pesticides?
EPA also recommends on page 6 under certain circumstances using Monsanto’s newer product SmartStax which contains 2 types of Bt protein.
According to Bloomberg Monsanto denies there are problems with its Bt corn which was planted on more than 37 million acres of land last year and accounts for 1/3 of the U.S. corn crop. However the question then arises, if there was no problem why did they develop SmartStax?
Interesting that 10 days after the EPA’s report Monsanto came out with a press release excerpted below, lauding its product SmartStax:
“We take the stewardship of our products seriously,” Vaughn said. “Our corn rootworm products continue to provide U.S. corn farmers with strong protection against this damaging pest as well as a higher yield potential than competitive rootworm-protected technologies across more 37 million acres today.”
Two items remain unclear:
- What effect if any this rootworm and the dropping of ethanol subsidies will have on U.S. corn production and sales of Monsanto’s products.
- I found close to 400 articles on EPA’s website on Bt corn. Since I don’t have a secretary 😀 I couldn’t possibly go through them all. Was the EPA too darned busy going after coal, oil and natural gas and missed the possible looming “corn crop crisis”? And cave to Monsanto’s demands on the size of the refuge to assist Monsanto in selling more of the expensive BT corn?
Some critics say “yes”:
Like its predecessors, the variety was approved by regulators, including the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency gave the green light to the corn only if farmers agreed to certain growing conditions, among them the requirement to plant non-Bt “refuge” corn on 20 percent of their Bt corn acres.
This, the agency maintained, would limit potential resistance to the protein by, in effect, ensuring that the insects can multiply and dilute the resistance genes in their offspring.
But scientists sitting on a scientific review board before the approval later complained that the agency ignored their recommendations and caved to the company’s demands for a 20 percent refuge.
They said farmers should instead have been required to plant 50 percent non-Bt corn.
The failure to listen to the review board, critics say, is largely responsible for the evidence of growing resistance.[emphasis mine].
My guess is that Monsanto lobbyists hit EPA pretty hard and got that 50% refuge requirement knocked down to 20%. Monsanto had been chomping at the bit to get this BT corn approved by EPA as they knew farmers would consider it a God send and make them a lot of money. Bt corn costs 30-35% more than non-Bt corn (top of page 3) but Monsanto was betting the farmers would be willing to pay the higher price because of the promise of higher yields. Many growers have contracts with ethanol producers or need feed corn for livestock and so have not always planted refuge fields or rotated their crops.
So EPA’s failure to adhere to scientific recommended practices with minimal oversight on their part has given us a huge problem. Nice going, as usual.
Crossposted at Conservative Outlooks