GENET archive


2-Plants: US EPA announced tighter refuge strategy for Bt-maize

-------------------------- GENET-news ---------------------------

TITLE:  A) Bt corn insect resistance management announced for
           2000 growing season
        B) EPA restricts gene-altered corn in response to
           concerns farmers must plant conventional 'refuges' to
           reduce threat of ecological damage
SOURCE: A) EPA, USA, Press Release
        B) Washington Post, by Rick Weiss
DATE:   A) January 14, 2000
        B) January 16, 2000

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Bt corn insect resistance management announced for 2000 growing

EPA has announced new measures for resistance management in Bt.
corn. The additional measures to fully manage insect resistance
for the 2000 growing season include: registrants must require
that growers plant a minimum structured refuge of at least 20
percent non-Bt. corn; for Bt. corn grown in cotton areas,
registrants must ensure that farmers plant at least 50 percent
non-Bt. corn; registrants will expand monitoring in the field as
an early warning system to detect any potential resistance, and
will communicate voluntary measures that will protect non-target
insects, particularly the Monarch butterfly; and there will be
sales and planting restrictions in certain limited geographic
areas for some products. The industry has agreed to the Agency's
conditions. For more information on EPA's biotechnology
regulatory program for plant pesticides, see:


EPA restricts gene-altered corn in response to concerns farmers
must plant conventional 'refuges' to reduce threat of ecological

The Environmental Protection Agency has placed new restrictions
on the cultivation of genetically modified corn, a response to
concerns that gene-altered crops may be causing ecological
disruptions. The new restrictions, which were released late
Friday and are effective immediately, make unprecedented demands
on the producers of biotech seeds and on farmers who wish to
plant so-called Bt corn, which has been endowed with a gene that
allows the corn to make its own insecticide.

Among the new restrictions is a requirement that farmers plant 20
percent to 50 percent of their acreage in conventional corn,
which some farmers have said would be burdensome and some experts
said could lead to a decline in plantings of the high-tech seeds.
Bt corn has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity among farmers
since it was approved for sale in 1996, and was planted on more
than one-third of U.S. corn acres last year. But some experts
have warned that large-scale plantings of Bt corn may be speeding
the evolution of "superbugs"--insects resistant to standard

Then, last summer, Cornell University scientists presented
preliminary evidence from laboratory studies that pollen from Bt
corn could blow onto milkweed plants and kill monarch butterfly
caterpillars. Although field studies aimed at measuring the true
ecological impact of Bt corn on monarchs are not yet complete,
the EPA suggested Friday that farmers voluntarily plant their
conventional cornfields upwind of their biotech fields so the Bt
corn pollen won't blow onto these refuges. Milkweed, the only
plant on which monarch butterflies lay their eggs, grows around
cornfields. Environmentalists praised the new regulations, which
the EPA negotiated with the biotechnology industry, as a step in
the right direction, if not as strong as they might have liked.

"Many of the companies and industries have gone to great lengths
to belittle concerns about toxic pollen on butterflies and the
development of resistance in insects," said Rebecca Goldburg, a
scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund in New York and a
member of a National Academy of Sciences panel that is preparing
a report on the environmental impact of gene-altered corn. "What
EPA has done is to confirm that there are some serious
environmental problems concerning the widespread planting of Bt
corn." Several varieties of genetically modified corn have been
rejected by European consumers and others because of
environmental and health concerns, costing U.S. farmers more than
$200 million in exports last year. With trade tensions rising
over the crops, and insect populations holding at modest levels
in many parts of the American corn belt, some experts were
already predicting that sales of engineered corn might decline
this spring for the first time.

A straw poll of 400 farmers conducted by Reuters last week at the
annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation found that
some farmers are planning to call it quits with biotech
varieties. Farmers said demands by U.S. consumers that engineered
food products be labeled, and ongoing European rejection of the
crops, could depress the prices farmers will get at harvest for
the costly new varieties. The poll results predict a 24 percent
decline in plantings of Bt corn compared with last year, and a 26
percent decline in plantings of Bt cotton. They also predict a 15
percent decline in RoundUp Ready soybeans--a gene-altered variety
of soy that protects the plants against the popular weed killer
made by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. and was planted on more than
half of all U.S. soy acres last year. And it predicts a 22
percent drop in RoundUp Ready corn.

Representatives from major producers of biotech seeds could not
be reached for comment, but a spokesman for Monsanto told Reuters
last week that farmers have been pleased with the new varieties
and that it's too soon to say what farmers will do in the spring.
The new EPA restrictions, described in letters to biotech seed
producers from Janet L. Andersen, director of EPA's biopesticides
and pollution prevention division, could influence those
decisions for corn. They demand that farmers plant large
"refuges" of conventional corn near their Bt corn to reduce Bt
pressures on insects and delay the evolution of resistance in
pest populations. Farmers will not be allowed to spray refuges
with conventional insecticides unless they can prove that pests
have exceeded certain levels.

And biotech seed producers and farmers will have to monitor
insect populations for the emergence of insecticide resistance.
At the first sign that such resistance is occurring, sales of the
new seed varieties must be halted. The rules also demand that
seed producers develop grower agreements that farmers must sign
or produce educational materials and programs such as workshops
and publications to ensure compliance with the rules. Companies
must submit details of those plans to the EPA for approval by
Jan. 31. 


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