EPA Seeks Comments on Monsanto’s Request for Experimental Use of Genetically-Modified BT Corn

Efthimios Parasidis

The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that Monsanto’s request to plant a new strain of genetically-modified corn “may be of regional and national significance.”  As a result, the agency is seeking public comment on Monsanto’s application.

Monsanto seeks permission to test the new corn in Puerto Rico and 22 states over the next two years.  The corn is bioengineered to produce Bacillus thuringiensis (BT)a bacteria that is known to kill rootworm.  The risks of BT-engineered crops are not fully known.  In addition to impacting the biodiversity of the soil and environment, BT toxin is known to kill other insects such as moths and butterflies, and some have argued that crops genetically-engineered to produce BT toxin have led to colony collapse disorder which has devastated beehives all over America for a number of years.

To be sure, naturally-occurring BT-products are allowed for USDA certified-organic production, and genetically modified BT-corn may be more environmentally friendly that other strains of genetically-modified corn since the corn itself produces the toxin, and thus theoretically would require less spraying of pesticides.  However, rootworm is known to adapt quickly and become resistant to bioengineered BT toxin.  In fact, farmers have had to spray their corn with chemical pesticides that the bioengineered BT corn was supposed to avoid. Notably, studies have found that genetically-modified BT crops adversely impact the health of humans and livestock, while BT toxin has been discovered in the blood of pregnant women and fetuses.  Given the widespread health and environmental concerns, to the extent the EPA is inclined to grant Monsanto’s request, the agency should condition the experimental use on funding for independent research that evaluates the long-term effects of bioengineered BT crops on humans, livestock, and the environment.

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