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)