A destructive insect’s growing resistance to genetically modified corn seeds is costing American farmers as much as $2 billion annually, and now U.S. regulators may weigh in on the matter with moves that could affect both farmers and corporate agriculture giants such as Monsanto.
The western corn rootworm appears to have evolved to eat the corn that was bioengineered to defeat it. That has led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consider limits to continuous corn planting—experts say the practice of planting corn for three or more years in the same field has helped rootworms build up resistance.
“The GMO crops are available, and they’ve done a great job for a long time, but now we have a very formidable adversary with the western corn rootworm,” said Brad Howe, a corn grower who farms in Gilman, Illinois, near where some rootworm resistance problems have been found. “They seem to be a pest that is able to constantly adapt to its environment and continue to change. So we’ve been fighting it and fighting it.”
According to the EPA, the government is considering a “proposed framework intended to delay the corn rootworm pest becoming resistant to corn genetically engineered to produce Bt pesticides.” Bt refers to Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil-dwelling bacteria that is used as a biological pesticide.
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