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Limits Sought on GMO Corn as Pest Resistance Grows 

Rootworm gains ground; seed producers criticize EPA proposal 

Jacob Bunge 

March 5, 2015 3:24 p.m. ET 

U.S. regulators for the first time are proposing limits on the planting of some genetically engineered corn to combat a voracious pest that has evolved to resist the bug-killing crops, a potential blow to makers of biotech seeds. 

The measures proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency represent a bold step to thwart the corn rootworm, a bug that ranks among the most expensive crop threats to U.S. corn farmers. 

The plan is aimed at widely grown corn varieties sold by Monsanto Co. , the first to sell rootworm-resistant corn, and rival seed makers including DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. Such corn seeds have been genetically modified to secrete proteins that are toxic to destructive insects, but safe for human consumption, helping to reduce farmers’ reliance on synthetic pesticides. ...华岳论坛 - "http://washeng.net" 


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The EPA’s proposal would require seed companies to limit some Midwestern farmers’ practice of sowing fields with corn year after year in areas harboring resistant rootworms, whose cream-colored larvae gnaw on corn roots and stunt plants’ growth. The EPA is concerned that if the resistance continues, it will lead farmers to use more synthetic chemicals to thwart the bug, creating environmental risks. 

Representatives of the biotech-seed industry have criticized some parts of the proposal, which was released in January and is subject to a public-comment period until March 16, after which the EPA will finalize any new requirements. ...华岳论坛 - "http://hua-yue.net" 

Pests are becoming resistant to GMO corn meant to thwart them. ENLARGE 
Pests are becoming resistant to GMO corn meant to thwart them. Photo: Joseph L. Spencer/University of Illinois 

The agency is taking a tougher stance because the industry’s efforts haven’t done enough to stem the spread of pesticide-resistant rootworms in the Midwest, officials said. 

“It is getting worse,” said Bill Jordan, the EPA’s deputy head of pesticide programs. “What’s happened so far hasn’t prevented these problems from arising, so we see need for something more.” 

Seed-company officials say they already encourage farmers to alternate planting of corn and other crops like soybeans to prevent resistant rootworms from establishing themselves. Other efforts also have helped, such as planting small quantities of non-biotech corn in parts of farmers’ fields to slow the bugs’ evolution, they say. Each year, the rootworm costs U.S. corn farmers about $1 billion to $2 billion in damages and outlays to thwart the insect, according to Michael Gray, an entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. ...华岳论坛 - "http://washeng.net" 

A western corn rootworm beetle on corn plant/kernels, in Illinois. ENLARGE 
A western corn rootworm beetle on corn plant/kernels, in Illinois. Photo: Joseph L. Spencer/University of Illinois 

Parts of the EPA’s plan are “quite prescriptive,” said Jeff Bookout, head of U.S. commercial stewardship at Monsanto and chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee, an industry group. “We need to make sure we provide choices and options for growers…not a one-size-fits all [solution].” 



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