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Too Many Farmers Growing Genetically Engineered Corn Not Complying with Key Environmental Requirements

CSPI Urges EPA Not to Re-Register Products Unless Compliance Improves

WASHINGTON - One out of every four farmers who plants genetically engineered (GE)
corn is failing to comply with at least one important insect-resistance
management requirement. That increases the likelihood that
pesticide-resistant bugs will threaten the future of biotech crops and
some of their non-biotech neighbors. That finding comes in a report released today by the Center for Science in the Public Interest,
which is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to not renew
registrations of the GE corn varieties unless compliance rates improve.

In 2008, 57 percent of the corn acreage in the United States
was planted with corn spliced with genes from the Bacillus
thuringiensis bacterium, or Bt. Those crops produce natural toxins that
are harmless to humans but will kill corn rootworms and corn borers,
which otherwise reduce crop yields. Farmers who plant such crops are
supposed to plant a refuge of conventional corn in, adjacent to, or
near the GE crop. That refuge is designed to reduce the risk that pests
that survive the toxin will breed with each other and produce resistant
offspring. Resistant offspring would not only reduce yields of the Bt
crops, but could also threaten organic or conventional farmers who use
natural Bt-based pesticides on non-GE crops.

Depending on the location of the crop and the pests targeted
by the strain of corn, farmers have varying requirements specifying the
size of the refuge and its distance from the GE crop. According to
industry surveys submitted to EPA in 2008:

  • Only 78 percent of growers planting corn-borer-protected
    crops met the size requirement, and only 88 percent met the distance
  • Only 74 percent of growers planting
    rootworm-protected crops met the size requirement, and 63 percent met
    the distance requirement.
  • Only 72 percent of
    farmers growing stacked varieties of GE corn-corn protected against
    both corn borer and rootworm-met the size requirement and 66 percent
    met the distance requirement.

Those compliance rates are
down, in some cases sharply, from 2003 to 2005, when compliance rates
were often above 90 percent. Though compliance assessments made on the
farm tend to show higher compliance rates than the surveys, those rates
also decreased in the last three years, according to CSPI.

"Given the tremendous growth in the acreage given over to
genetically engineered corn since its introduction, it is intolerable
for farmers not to be meeting their refuge requirements," said CSPI biotechnology
director Greg Jaffe. "Given the stakes, regulators should insist on
compliance rates much closer to 100 percent to prevent insect problems
that threaten all farmers, not just those planting biotech crops."

In a letter sent today
to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, CSPI said that the agency should not
re-register the existing varieties of Bt corn until the companies
demonstrate higher levels of compliance. But, if the EPA does
re-register the products, registrants such as Monsanto, Pioneer
Hi-Bred, Syngenta, and Dow AgroSciences should be subject to severe
fines or seed sales restrictions if noncompliance rates remain high,
according to the letter. Those biotech companies should also provide
farmers with incentives to meet their obligations. CSPI also wants the
EPA to obtain more reliable data by requiring biotech companies to pay
for independent, third-party assessments of farmer compliance with
refuge requirements, and to require labeling on bags of biotech seed
corn to specify refuge requirements.


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Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.

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