EPA writes new regs for Bt corn

Published April 1, 2000

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced new rules, worked out with the National Corn Growers Association, that would require farmers to plant a 20 percent border of non-Bt corn around the Bt corn acreage they grow.

Seed supplier Monsanto said it has urged farmers “growing Bt corn and Bt cotton to plant refuge areas since we first commercialized these products in 1996 and 1997.” Bt corn contains the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, a natural pesticide that kills the corn borer before it can attack the corn.

Critics of genetically altered crops argue they may allow pests to develop resistance to pesticides, and also that pollen from Bt corn may drift onto milkweeds where Monarch butterfly caterpillars feed.

But when Cornell University entomologist John Losey reported in May that gene-altered Bt corn had the potential to kill the caterpillars, he acknowledged the findings were preliminary and needed further study. The science journal Nature later documented several errors in the Losey study, and Stanford University scientists revisiting the research reported monarchs are not in danger from genetically modified corn pollen. EPA scientists noted “it is highly unlikely that endangered, threatened, or even highly revered species such as the Monarch are being significantly exposed to Bt corn.”

In its coverage of the new EPA rules, the Washington Post ignored the more recent Monarch research. Noted Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Indiana) in a recent speech, “The Post article did not mention that the Cornell study has been roundly criticized by the scientific community. Data shows that Bt pollen, which is relatively heavy in weight, ordinarily does not drift more than a few feet outside farm fields.” According to two leading entomologists, “we are losing more Monarch butterflies on car windshields than as a result of Bt corn.”