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2-Plants: Mexican environmentalists react on Monarch butterfly study



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TITLE:  Ecologists Urge Mexico About Corn
SOURCE: American Press
DATE:   May 20, 1999

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Ecologists Urge Mexico About Corn

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Environmentalists on Thursday urged the
government to ban imports and use of genetically engineered corn,
citing new research that it could contribute to deaths of monarch
butterflies, which mainly winter in Mexico. The call was made in
a joint news release by Liza Covantes of Greenpeace and Homero
Aridjis, head of the Group of 100 leading poets, artists and
intellectuals, saying a ban should remain at least until there is
more study of the corn's effects. Millions of monarch butterflies
spend the winter months in the western forests of Mexico and
Michoacan states. The butterflies originate in Canada and the
United States and fly each year to Mexico. They are not an
endangered species, but environmentalists have long been worried
that excessive logging in Mexico or use of pesticides in the
United States has been killing the orange-and-black butterflies. 

Covantes cited a study published in Thursday's issue of the
journal Nature by Cornell University researchers led by
entomologist John Losey. The study found that monarch
caterpillars eating milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from the
altered so-called Bt corn ate less, grew more slowly and died
more quickly. After four days, 44 percent of them had died as
opposed to none of the caterpillars that didn't feed on the
pollen. Aridjis said that Mexico, the United States and Canada
are obliged to protect the monarch butterfly under ecological
preservation provisions of the North American Free Trade
Agreement, in force since Jan. 1, 1994. The Mexican government
has approved cultivation of genetically engineered corn on an
experimental basis since 1993 and only in certain regions. But it
has increasingly imported genetically modified corn for human
consumption. Covantes also said she is concerned that the
genetically modified corn could affect some 300 varieties of
native Mexican corn. 

Manufactured by Novartis AG, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.
and Monsanto Co., Bt corn is laboratory-designed to produce a
natural pesticide that kills the corn-destroying European corn
borer. The altered strain accounted for more than 25 percent of
the 80 million acres of corn planted in the United States in
1998. Industry officials said they were not surprised by the
findings because the larvae of monarch butterflies are similar to
the corn borer. They also called the study sloppy because the
researchers didn't precisely measure the amount of pollen ladled
onto the milkweed leaves. Val Giddings, vice president for the
Biotechnology Industry Organization, said: "Whatever the threat
to monarch butterflies that is posed by Bt corn pollen, we know
it's less than the threat of drifting pesticide sprays."



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