GM-resistant corn rootworm: getting the facts straight

guest blog

by Robert Wager

The segment GM-Resistant Rootworms and the Future of Farming was aired on May 29th on CBC’s The Current. The program reviewed a particular type of genetically modified crop – Bt corn – and how it has performed over time. The program had several guest speakers with differing points of view.  It was an interesting program overall, but there were a few keys facts missing:

  1. GM-resistant corn rootworms have been found in less than 1% of US corn fields so the context/scale of the problem was not made clear on the program (for more on this see the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division (BPPD) IRM team’s review of Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1 resistance monitoring data (EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0922-0037) (2010), Table 2).
  2. Integrated pest management (IPM) can include organic production methods if they are deemed best for a given farming situation. The suggestion that IPM is separate from organic farming is simply not true.
  3. The suggestion that only organic farming practices enhance soil ecology is blatantly false.  The National Academy of Science 2010 report, Impact of GE crops on farm Sustainability in the US stated farmers who have adopted GE crop technology have seen “substantial economic and environmental benefits.”  The organic farmer spokesperson on the program ignores this fact.  A good example is the well documented soil enhancements that are made possible with reduced/no tillage farming that Roundup Ready crops permit.  Tilling for weeds (the organic option) is quite destructive to soil structure.
  4. Organic agriculture is not chemical free. They use a different set of chemicals (coppers, sulfates). The environmental impact quotient (EIQ) for some of the organic alternatives is far higher (more negative impact on the environment) than conventional or biotechnology counterparts.
  5. The significant yield drag for organic agriculture is not mentioned by the organic production advocate.  On average decades of research show a 15-30% yield reduction for organic crop production (see Alex Avery’s book The Truth About Organic Foods (2006)).  This would have a very significant impact on food prices and farmer incomes.
  6. There was no mention that organic agriculture use the same Bt that was the main topic of the show. Organic crop advocates often vilify Bt in GM crops and then use the very same Bt in their own agricultural practices.  Where was that fact in the discussion?
rootworm damage NDSU

Source: North Dakota State U http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/

Having outlined a few shortcomings of the show’s content, I would like to congratulate the panel on the The Current’s program for shedding light on the need for better IPM practices in farming.  No one system of agriculture will solve all of the problems inherent in food production.  The world will need to double food production by 2050 and for that we require many systems of agricultural production in order to address the challenge.

Robert Wager
Vancouver Island University
Nanaimo BC
robert.wager@viu.ca

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rob wager 1

Robert Wager has been a faculty member of the Biology Dept at Vancouver Island University for the past 18 years.  He has a BSc. in Microbiology and a Masters in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.  Rob has been interested in Genetically Modified (GM) crops and food with emphasis on public education and public policy.  He has written dozens of mainstream articles for the general public that help explain different aspects of the technology.  You can follow Rob on Twitter @RobetWager1 or review his work at: http://web.viu.ca/wager

Got drosophila?

August 20, 2011

Well, its that time of year again.  House flies are beginning their sleepy descent into fall, inciting them to buzz in an ‘up close and personal’ manner that can be infuriating to say the least. Not sure what the correlation is here (weather, season, quality of produce) but the fruit flies (my scientist-friends refer to them as Drosophila and they are used as a model organism in genetics) have also descended en masse as well…in our house anyway.

My friend Tammy dropped by this morning for coffee (I missed her birthday while I was on holidays and we planned a belated celebration over coffee and Tammy’s yummy home-made scones). She mentioned her battles with the fruit flies in her own home.  She had even resorted to hanging tendrils of sticky fly paper (like Grandma used to) in her kitchen to capture what I now call those “…crafty sons-of-a-b#tch!” (a la Norman from “On Golden Pond”).  Impressed with her fortitude and feeling happy that I didn’t have to deal with that many myself… I went over and casually shook my fruit bowl.

It was like a scene from Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.  Good grief.  Who knew that this benign mound of fruit could hide such a profusion of those nasty little buggers!

Tammy giggled.  Then she shared a great little trick that would help me rid myself of those “…crafty sons-of-a-b#tch!”

Pour apple cider vinegar into a container and cover it tightly with Saran or other plastic wrap.  Poke holes in the plastic.  The fruit flies are attracted to the odor of the cider-vinegar and will creep into the holes but can’t seem to crawl out again (hmmmm… maybe not so crafty!?!?!).  They will eventually drown in the apple cider vinegar.  

For my ‘remedy’, I used a wine glass. Tammy thought that it might ‘class’ things up a bit (the wine charm you see in the photo is merely a leftover tidbit from last year’s Christmas celebration and not required as part of the extermination protocol *wink*).

As you can see in figure two, there are three “…crafty sons-of-a-b#tch…” that have met their demise in the vinegary vat of hell. Muhahaha!!! <evil laugh> Any scientists out there need some specimens? 

Img_4717

Fruitfly1

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Discovery, development and registration of ag-related products to fight disease and pests: A study

Commissioned by Crop Life America and and the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), Phillips McDougall conducted a study on the discovery, development and registration of new products designed to support modern agricultural production and fight pests and disease around the world.

The Study is available here:

http://www.croplifeamerica.org/sites/default/files/node_images/PM%20R%26D%20S…

Some key notes articulated by Jack Boyne, director of communications for Bayer CropScience:

  • 50 percent of the world’s harvest would be lost if pests weren’t controlled 
  • it takes approximately 10 years of testing to bring a product to market, during which time half the product’s patent protection is lost 
  • products are evaluated not only for possible effects on human health but also for their impacts in wildlife and the environment 
  • only one product out of 100,000 evaluated actually makes it to market 
  • today’s products are better tested, more selective and more precisely applied than ever before — often a dose is measured in fractions of grams per acre 

Read more on this in “Crop protection products help feed world” (by David Bennett, Farm Press Editorial Staff). http://deltafarmpress.com/news/crop-protection-products-help-feed-world-0312/