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2-Plants: Canada finances study on Bt-corn impacts on butterflies

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TITLE:  Farmers applaud new research on butterflies and biotech
SOURCE: AGCare (Agricultural Groups Concerned about Resources and
        the Environment), Canada, press release
DATE:   July 13, 1999

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GUELPH, Ontario. - Ontario farmers applaud the efforts of the
Ontario Bt-Corn Coalition to further quantify the effects of
genetically engineered Bt-corn on butterfly vitality. The
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Environment Canada
have awarded $60,000 in funding over two years to help determine
the ecological impact of Bt-corn pollen on populations of
selected non-target butterfly species, including the Monarch
butterfly, in Ontario and Quebec. The research will be led by Dr.
Mark Sears, chair of the Department of Environmental Biology at
the University of Guelph, and chair of the Ontario Bt-Corn
Coalition, an affiliation of farmers, government personnel, seed
industry representatives and publicly funded researchers from
Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) and the University of
Guelph, with a mandate to foster the responsible usage of Bt
technology in Ontario.

"It's important that all steps be taken to minimize the effect of
Bt technology on native species while retaining its benefits in
reducing pesticide usage and improving food quality and safety,"
said Jim Fischer, a Walkerton, Ontario farmer and chair of AGCare
(Agricultural Groups Concerned about Resources and the
Environment). "This initiative is welcome news to Ontario
farmers." Genetically engineered Bt corn varieties contain a gene
from the common soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), that
produces a protein toxic to the European corn borer (ECB). Bt is
also commonly used as an organic pesticide.

ECB is a serious pest in corn fields across North America and
often has a major negative effect on crop yield and quality. In
1997, ECB was estimated to inflict $1.2 billion worth of damage
to the U.S. corn crop. Conservative estimates placed the value of
Bt corn at $7-10 million annually in improved corn yields in
Ontario in 1998, when approximately 15 percent of the crop was
planted to Bt varieties. One-third of the field corn in Ontario
in 1999 is Bt-corn. Recent research results from Iowa State
University also show that the use of Bt technology results in
corn with less mould and natural toxins and fewer worms - of
major benefit to food quality.

The new research was sparked by a study published in the May 20
issue of Nature. In a laboratory study, Cornell University
assistant professor John Losey and colleagues found that pollen
from Bt corn placed at heavy dosage rates on milkweed leaves
damaged Monarch butterfly larvae. Dr. Losey and others called for
additional research to help clarify the significance of this
laboratory finding in field situations. The extent to which these
preliminary findings apply to milkweed plants outdoors and
butterfly larvae in their native habitat is not well known. The
new research to be conducted by Sears and colleagues will
evaluate the ecological impact of pollen from Bt corn on several
insect species including the Monarch butterfly by estimating the
distribution and extent of corn growing in Ontario in proximity
to potentially sensitive ecosystems such as wetlands,
uncultivated areas, and woodlots, the extent to which Bt-cornpollen is likely to reach and stay on milkweed leaves in the
e areas, and the amount of Bt-corn pollen on milkweed leaves
needed to cause butterfly larvae mortality.

The research will also assess whether there are differences among
different sources of Bt corn, and recommend strategies for
reducing any potential risks to butterfly populations while
retaining benefits to farmers and consumers in pesticide use
reduction and better product quality.

Farmers in Ontario have adopted a crop management program which
includes planting a 20 percent refuge area (non Bt-corn) in corn
fields. Often this is planted around the edges of the field in an
effort to reduce the potential development of resistance to Bt by
the European corn borer and will reduce the impact of Bt corn on
marginal land.

"The new research will permit us to understand the extent to
which the preliminary Cornell lab data relate to outdoor
conditions in Ontario, and to develop strategies for further
reducing potential risks to butterflies and other beneficial
insects, while retaining the benefits of Bt corn for farmers,
consumers and the environment," said Dr. Art Schaafsma,
University of Guelph researcher and member of the Ontario Bt-Corn

Additional resources:


- Insect Resistance Management of Bt Corn in Canada

- Responsible Deployment of Bt Corn Technology in Ontario

- Producer perceptions of, and barriers to, implementation of
  resistance management strategies for genetically-engineered
  Bt-containing corn in Ontario (Lastovic S. & Powell, D.A.,

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