Dow and Monsanto to Create SmartStax Genetically Modified Corn

Dow and Monsanto to Create SmartStax Genetically Modified Corn

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted September 17, 2007 in DNA Podcasts and Videos, Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms

corn whirlyCorn is among the top three genetically modified (GM) crops planted in the United States each year. According to Bloomberg.com, 73% of all corn planted in 2007 was genetically modified equalling over 65 million acres of GM corn. Of course, corn is for more than just human consumption. It is used as animal feed, corn sweeteners, paper, textiles, adhesives, and fuel alcohol. Much of the increase in demand for corn is driven by the demand for grain-based ethanol.

Last week, Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co. announced the combination of their efforts to create the SmartStax GM corn which will have eight genetic modifications to address three areas of concern:

  1. Above-ground insect control with protection against insects such as corn earworm, fall army warm, and cutworms.
  2. Below-ground insect control with protection against corn rootworm.
  3. Weed control with herbicide tolerance

When drought resistance and nitrogen absorption traits can be genetically engineered in SmartStax GM corn, they will be incorporated as well. The seeds are expected to be available by the end of the decade and will become Monsanto’s primary insect-resistant corn within the next 10 years.

Dow and Monsanto will also be asking the United States Environmental Protection Agency to remove regulations requiring that farmers plant at least 20% of their corn fields with non-genetically modified corn to minimize the potential of pests developing resistance to pesticides. But a 2003 PLoS Biology feature on genetically modified corn and accompanying environmental benefits and risks states that many farmers violate EPA standards. In the same article, another risk is mentioned as well:

After seven years of GM crop production and no apparent health effects, potential environmental risks—particularly gene flow into other species—have eclipsed food safety as a primary concern. As pollen and seeds move in the environment, they can transmit genetic traits to nearby crops or wild relatives. Many self-pollinating crops, such as wheat, barley, and potatoes, have a low frequency of gene flow, but the more promiscuous, such as sugar beets and corn, merit greater concern.

drought corn

But it is just as clear that genetically modified corn has many advantages, including a reduction in the need for agrochemicals, hardier crops that can survive difficult growing seasons, less soil erosion, and lower levels of cancer-causing fungal mycotoxins in GM corn because there are fewer insects to bore holes that allow the fungus in.

Jonathan Rauch also points out in The Atlantic in Will Frankenfood Save the Planet?:

Recall that world food output will need to at least double and possibly triple over the next several decades. Even if production could be increased that much using conventional technology, which is doubtful, the required amounts of pesticide and fertilizer and other polluting chemicals would be immense. If properly developed, disseminated, and used, genetically modified crops might well be the best hope the planet has got.

As with most decisions we have to make, the pros and cons of genetically modified food makes the debate difficult to sort out. I leave you with some videos below the fold on GM food. The first is a video straight from Monsanto and the latter three from DW-TV called The Genetic Conspiracy: Following the Trail that aired earlier this year. None of the videos are balanced. The Monsanto video evokes peace and happy feelings while DW-TV is scaremongering. Hard to decide what to think with all this propaganda flying around.

From Monsanto:

From DW-TV:

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(5 comments)


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5 Comments

Comment by jhay

GMOs are just shortcuts to fixing the seemingly world food shortage. Capitalist thrusts and unsustainable agro-industrial practices are what’s causing lands to become infertile, giving birth to a plethora of insecticides and herbicides etc.

Instead of solving these, they just another problem, GMOs.

You’re right, jhay. Sometimes we have to choose the lesser of two evils.

Comment by Bill Freese Subscribed to comments via email

Dr. Lei regards it as “clear” that GM crops reduce the need for agrochemicals, are “hardier” and so can better “survive difficult growing seasons” and cause “less soil erosion.” These are all carefully constructed myths without foundation in fact.

Biotech industry figures show that 4 of every 5 acres of GM crops worldwide (81%) are modified for tolerance to an herbicide (mainly glyphosate, Monsanto’s Roundup). USDA data on pesticide use show clearly that use of herbicides (weedkillers, one form of pesticide) has increased dramatically with increasing adoption of GM herbicide-tolerant soybeans, corn, cotton and canola. The main reason for this increase in herbicide use is the explosive growth in weeds resistant to glyphosate, which in turn results from farmers’ overreliance on glyphosate to control weeds in Roundup Ready (glyphosate tolerant) crops. This weed resistance (very like antibiotic resistance in bacteria) is driving increased use of glyphosate and other nastier herbicides like atrazine, 2,4-D and acetachlor.

GM crops are not “hardier” (whatever that means) and do not better survive “difficult growing seasons.” In fact, Roundup Ready soybeans perform more poorly in drought conditions than conventional soybeans. Biotech companies have been talking about drought-tolerance and salt-tolerance for over a decade, but have failed to bring any such GM crop to market, and none are on the horizon.

Herbicide-resistant weeds fostered by GM herbicide-tolerant crops are driving increased use of mechanical tillage as a means of weed control, increasing soil erosion. Tennessee, Mississippi and Missouri are already seeing reductions in no-till agriculture as more and more farmers till to control herbicide-resistant weeds. That means more soil erosion, not less.

Instead of repeating biotech industry myths, a scientist like Dr. Lei should examine the facts. GM crops are designed mainly for increased use of herbicides, not to feed the world. I would be happy to supply references to support my analysis above.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Bill, I’ve already emailed you but just for public record, I’m no expert on genetically modified food. I presented both sides of the argument above based on the sources I linked t as well as clearly stating that I am not sure what to believe. I am, of course, interested in learning more about this very important debate. I hope you’ll come back to teach us more!

 
 
 
 

[...] “Recall that world food output will need to at least double and possibly triple over the next several decades. Even if production could be increased that much using conventional technology, which is doubtful, the required amounts of pesticide and fertilizer and other polluting chemicals would be immense. If properly developed, disseminated, and used, genetically modified crops might well be the best hope the planet has got. “///EyeOnDNA [...]

 

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