Scientists Refute Greenpeace Claims About GM Corn

Greenpeace Germany Mag cover 1983

Greenpeace Germany's cover 1983 (Image by Brianfit via Flickr)

Lanham, MD; January 6, 2012 — An article in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Integrated Pest Management (JIPM) refutes claims by Greenpeace Germany that the western bean cutworm (WBC), Striacosta albicosta (Smith), is “a new plant pest” that was “caused by genetically engineered corn.” The Greenpeace Germany report, which was written by author Richard Then of Testbiotech, offers a “surprisingly simplistic conclusion” regarding the spread of western bean cutworm over the last decade, according to the JIPM authors.

In Genetically Engineered Bt Corn and Range Expansion of the Western Bean Cutworm (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in the United States: A Response to Greenpeace Germany, corresponding author William Hutchison, professor and chair of the University of Minnesota Department of Entomology, and his co-authors maintain that the Greenpeace report fails to consider broader ecological and agronomic factors which explain why the WBC’s range has expanded, including insect biology, synchrony of insect and corn phenology, reduced insecticide use, increases in conservation tillage, soil type, glyphosate-resistant crops, insect genetics, insect pathogens, pre-existing insect population densities, and climate change.

The JIPM authors focus on several discrepancies of fact and interpretation in the Greenpeace document, beginning with its title, “Agro-biotechnology: New plant pest caused by genetically engineered corn. The spread of the western bean cutworm causes massive damage in the U.S.”

Despite the Greenpeace claim, the WBC is neither “new” nor has it caused “massive damage” recently. The WBC was originally collected in Arizona in the 1880s and was considered an economic pest of beans and corn as early as 1915. Over the last decade its range has expanded, but documentation of economically damaging infestations has been relatively limited.

The Greenpeace claim that the WBC has historically “been confined to very limited regions and did not cause any major problems in maize crops” is also untrue, according to the authors. Farmers in Nebraska reported major problems as early as 1962, and instead of being “confined to very limited regions,” the WBC was documented throughout the western Great Plains from Mexico to Alberta, where it was found in the mid 1950s, despite the Greenpeace claim that it was found in Canada for the first time as recently as 2009.

According to the authors, “a curious theme throughout the Greenpeace Germany report, is that Then (2010) ignored the possibility of other influences on western bean cutworm range expansion, including several ecological and agronomic factors.” For example, the increasing use of conservation tillage since the mid-1990s favors the survival rate of WBC larvae because less deep plowing minimizes mortality to insect pests that overwinter in the soil. Another possible reason is the reduction or elimination of insecticide applications, which has occurred with increased use of Bt corn over the past decade, likely resulting in increased survival of the WBC. Other possibilities for the WBC range expansion, such as climate change, were also ignored by Greenpeace and Testbiotech.

Out of concern that “potential misinterpretation of selected quotes” in the Greenpeace report may lead to confusion among future regulatory decision makers, the authors go on to give specific responses to other claims in the report.

These responses, and the full JIPM article, can be downloaded at http://www.entsoc.org/PDF/2012/JIPM-Greenpeace.pdf.

The Journal of Integrated Pest Management is a peer-reviewed, open-access, extension journal covering the field of integrated pest management. It is published by the Entomological Society of America, the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines.

Media Inquiries should be directed to:

Dr. William D. Hutchison, PhD
University of Minnesota
(612) 624-1299; hutch002@umn.edu

Dr. Thomas E. Hunt
University of Nebraska
(402) 584-3863; thunt2@unl.edu

Dr. Gary L. Hein
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
(402) 472-3345; ghein1@unl.edu

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Should the FDA require DHMO to be listed on food labels?

 

dihydrogen monoxide

Would you drink Dihydrogen monoxide? (Image by helen sotiriadis via Flickr)

Dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) is used in the production of genetically modified crops. It is also used as a food additive and preservative. Every year people die from accidents involving DHMO, including DHMO poisoning. Some have died from as little as one drop. Additionally, the burning of hydrocarbons (e.g., wood and fossil fuels) releases DHMO into the atmosphere where it is a powerful greenhouse gas, more powerful than carbon dioxide.

The government and food companies will tell you that DHMO has been used for years, is perfectly safe (Chemicals are part of life; they are the building blocks in fact), and does not need regulation. Yet, given these facts, shouldn’t companies be required to place DHMO on their food labels?

Actually, no, although every fact presented to you is true, it is designed to mislead you. In fact, DHMO is relatively safe. Dihydrogen monoxide, (two hydrogen atoms to one oxygen atom) is normally written as H2O: water.

Think about spin such as DHMO when you hear that genetically engineered crops have not been proven safe. As an example, you will hear about a Cornell University research study that was reported as a note in Nature in June 1999. You will read things similar to “The Nature study was published after several Bt-corn varieties had been approved by the EPA and over 20 million acres of Bt corn were planted in the United States.” (source: Union of Concerned Scientists website) The preliminary research found that monarch butterflies died from eating pollen from corn that has been modified to produce Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt toxin). Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed that grows in the Midwest where the corn grows. That is true. The European corn borer and monarch butterfly are members of the Lepidoptera, and though Bt is harmless to humans (indeed it is used by organic farmers as a pesticide because it is a naturally occurring soil bacterium) it is toxic to lepidopteran insects. Pollen from the Bt corn could fall on the milkweed which could sicken or kill monarch caterpillars. Again, true.

What is missing is perspective and balance. No crop is grown without the farmer (organic or conventional) using a pesticide. The better targeted the pesticide, the less harm that occurs to non-targets plants and animals. While it is true that Bt pollen poses a small risk to monarchs, organic farmers use Bt sprays, would monarch caterpillars be any less at risk from organically grown corn? No, the monarch would still be sickened or killed by organic growing methods. Additionally, other insects would be at risk too.

Less pesticide use is a result of growing Bt corn. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency pesticide use has decreased about 33% since Bt corn was introduced.
For more about Bt corn and the monarch study go to: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/btcorn/index.html#bt3

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