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Genetically Modified Corn Farmers Breaking The Rules

Tsk. Tsk. As if genetetically-engineered crops weren’t scary enough, a recent study revealed that as many as 37% of farmers planting genetically-modified BT corn crops aren’t complying with federal rules designed to maintain the crop’s resistance to damage from insects.

BT corn, you’ll remember, is genetically modified to be insecticidal. In other words, certain insects eating BT corn in fields should die. In order to help ensure that insects don’t grow resistant to the toxins in the plant, federal regulations written by the EPA require farmers to plant 20% of the fields with non-BT corn in order to serve as a refuge for insects. The hope is that if an insect becomes immune to the BT toxin, it will mate with a non-resistant insect from a nearby field, and their offspring will not be resistant to the toxin. As of 2008, 57% of the corn grown in the U.S. is BT corn.

According to a recent article in the New York Times:

The increase in farmers skirting the rules, from fewer than 10 percent a few years ago, raises the risk that insects will develop resistance to the toxins in the corn that are meant to kill them, the report says. And it raises questions about whether the Environmental Protection Agency and the agricultural biotechnology industry are adequately enforcing the rules.

The data “should be a wake-up call to E.P.A. that the regulatory system is not working,” Gregory Jaffe, the report’s author, wrote in a letter Thursday to Lisa P. Jackson, the administrator of the federal agency. Mr. Jaffe is the biotechnology project director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington advocacy group that does not oppose genetically engineered crops but favors stricter regulation.

Why doesn’t this news surprise me?

More from the article:

Four big biotechnology companies — Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences — jointly do an annual survey of corn growers to assess compliance.

Mr. Jaffe obtained these reports from the E.P.A. under the Freedom of Information Act. From 2003 to 2006, about 90 percent of farmers growing corn resistant to the corn borer established refuges of the required size. But the rate fell to 80 percent in 2007 and 78 percent in 2008.

Only 74 percent of farmers were setting up a big enough refuge for corn resistant to the rootworm in 2008, down from 89 percent in 2006. And only 63 percent of farmers had their rootworm refuges close enough to their fields.

Nicholas Storer, chairman of Agricultural Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee, the industry group that does the surveys, said the seed companies recognized the problems and for the last two years have been undertaking a “Respect the Refuge” campaign, sending postcards to farmers and putting billboards alongside highways in the Corn Belt.

“We’re not happy to see negative trends,” Dr. Storer said.

The E.P.A. said it would evaluate the report and take action if necessary.

If necessary? Nearly 40% of farmers aren’t complying with federal regulations, and they actually have to question whether or not any action is necessary?

Furthermore, I’d like to ask folks like Mr. Jaffe — who aren’t opposed to GMO crops but who want more government regulations regarding them — what they think more regulations will accomplish when the regulations we do have aren’t being enforced at all?

(photo by Peter Blanchard)
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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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9 Responses to Genetically Modified Corn Farmers Breaking The Rules
  1. Extreme Fitness Results
    November 11, 2009 | 3:50 pm

    Honestly, given how much clout the farmers have over Congress, the EPA and people’s minds in general, it’s no surprise that they’re getting away with this. The sheer power of their lobbyists is out of control, and the amount of money being sunk into them by the Federal Government is out of control. So, sad? Yes. Shocking? No.
    .-= Extreme Fitness Results´s last blog post …Insani-Tea =-.

    • KristenM
      November 12, 2009 | 2:14 pm

      Well, I don’t want to paint the farmer’s as the bad guys. They’re just making the best economic decisions they can given their experience of farming. It’s not their fault that they respond to economic pressure by skirting the rules. The problem is that there’s no economic pressure from the opposite end of the spectrum, no pressure forcing them to obey the rules that are there.

  2. kc
    November 12, 2009 | 1:06 am

    These facts are disturbing, but as someone who is allergic to corn, I was already aware that corn is evil. :) It is surprising to me that most people don’t seem to mind eating something that insects are too smart to eat. The average American thinks that they choose whether they ingest GMO corn, but they forget about all the food additives, vitamin supplements, household products and medicines that are created from it. Since I react to all corn and I cannot tolerate the meat industry’s feed lot products or conventional eggs, I would say that the corn ingested by the animals is most definitely absorbed into the consumer’s system. I am doing my part to eradicate corn from our food industry (by scrupulously avoiding purchasing anything that contains corn) but I am woefully aware that it just isn’t enough. Maybe I could print some “Corn is Evil” t-shirts?
    .-= kc´s last blog post …Ginger tea is an elixir of health =-.

    • KristenM
      November 12, 2009 | 2:14 pm

      I’d buy one of those shirts!

  3. Vin - NaturalBias
    November 12, 2009 | 8:27 am

    Hi Kristen,

    This is scary indeed and I’m not surprised either. It’s pretty ridiculous that Monsanto or any other company with a conflict of interest would be involved in assessing compliance. I suppose they should want farmers to comply to promote long term success of their product, but we know that we can’t trust Monsanto, and it doesn’t seem much different than the FDA approving drugs based on research provided by the manufacturers that create them.
    .-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog post …The Keys to Great Digestive Health =-.

    • KristenM
      November 12, 2009 | 2:17 pm

      No kidding. Self-policing works with libertarian laws, but it can’t possibly work in situations like these.

  4. nika7k
    November 12, 2009 | 8:38 am

    Capitalism ensures this outcome RT @vinmiller: corn farmers not playing by the rules by @foodrenegade

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  5. Arlo
    November 13, 2009 | 3:24 am

    57% of corn is modified and 40% of that isn’t following protocols? And the protocols are in place to try to hopefully avert tolerance in insects? Humans trying to play mother nature again, eh? We know how well that has worked with streptococcus, right? The more we beat down other life, the quicker it seems to evolve and adapt to our weapons.

    Yet another reason not to eat corn or corn derivatives (which is thought of as a vegetable, but is in fact a giant grain).

    Anyone else see the doc “King Corn”?

  6. nikkifwd
    November 14, 2009 | 7:07 pm

    scary united fields of food, inc RT @vinmiller More scary stuff about GMOs:corn farmers not playing by the rules

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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