That clever little pest, the western corn rootworm, is outsmarting the genetic engineers inserting a Bt protein into corn plants. Apparently Monsanto‘s attempts to kill off the beasties has just made them hungrier.
That is more than a little problematic since corn is a popular ingredient in almost everything, and genetically engineered crops account for 88 percent of all the corn planted in the U.S. You probably ate some GM corn today. If you ate any of these foods you almost surely did: corn meal, tortilla chips, yogurt, bread, breakfast cereals, “honey” roasted nuts, salad dressings, canned fruits, jams, barbecue sauce and ketchup.
A 2011 study by Iowa State University’s Department of Entomology was the first to raise the alarm after finding corn rootworm in some fields. The honeymoon was over, but the extent of the problem did not seem like a reason for farmers to divorce Monsanto corn. Some changes in farming practices could bring it under control.
Then in August 2012 a University of Illinois study confirmed the Iowa State findings. Monsanto’s Bt-corn was losing its effectiveness against corn rootworm. In an article in the Daily Illini, entomology professor Mike Gray called it, “an unfortunate consequence of the overuse of good technology.”
Farmers in the Midwest had been enjoying high profits from their Bt-corn. They had not been planting refuge strips and had fallen into the practice of planting the same crop in the same field year after year. That was a boon for Monsanto but also for the corn rootworm, which evolved to resist the toxin.
Next: Monsanto goes on the defensive
Photos of adult and larval stages of corn rootworm via Wikimedia Commons
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