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EPA tightens BT corn enforcement

(Monday, Dec. 9, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

Jerry Kram, Agweek: Farmers growing genetically modified Bt corn will be subject to greater scrutiny to prevent insect resistance.

Bt corn contains a bacterial gene that makes a protein toxic to insect pests such as corn borers. However, when large amounts of any pesticide are present in the environment, organisms often adapt and evolve to become immune to the toxins. To prevent resistance to the Bt protein, the Environmental Protection Agency and a committee of the four companies producing Bt corn have agreed on an insect-resistance management compliance program.


Farmers who grow Bt corn must keep 20 percent of their crop in non-Bt varieties. The conventional corn fields must be within one-half mile (one-quarter mile is preferred) of the Bt cornfields. Farmers also may plant blocks or strips of conventional corn in the same field as the Bt corn. The abundance of nonresistant insects from these refuge cornfields will swamp the genes of any resistant insects from the Bt fields.

Growers will be required to sign agreements with stewardship provisions to comply with the program. Corn growers who fail to follow the compliance program for two years will not be allowed to grow Bt corn a third year.

The four seed companies - Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Syngenta Seeds - will conduct an annual survey of corn growers to monitor their compliance with the program. They also are required to establish a program for investigating "legitimate tips and complaints" about growers who may not be following their compliance agreements.

The agreement also directs the companies to train their representatives who make on-farm visits to assess whether the growers are following the rules. Local seed dealers will have the main responsibility for monitoring compliance.

"I believe the IRM Compliance Assurance Program is the best way to protect against resistance and keep Bt products available," says Fred Yoder, president of the National Corn Growers Association. "We've done a good job in complying so far, and this program will help make sure Bt corn remains effective against pests and continues to provide economic benefits to all of us."

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