Twenty-two of the top scientists on corn pests have drafted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, outlining the dire results of research which indicates that corn rootworms have developed a resistance to the genetic modifications made to hybrid corn which was originally engineered to kill them.
Farmers in certain parts of the country are being asked to quit planting this hybrid corn altogether, because the gene is quickly becoming useless and insect resistance is building. As expected, Big Ag seed companies have stated that their corn does not contribute to rootworm resistance since only 0.2 percent of the acreage planted with their hybrid corn shows excessive damage.
Because of the reluctance of seed companies to shoulder the responsibility of the growing insect resistance, scientists from several universities plan to more carefully monitor corn fields for rootworm damage.
At this time, there appears to be only one of the three different rootworm genes on the market which is creating a resistance. Now there is a hybrid corn which combines two of the three genes, and the EPA has given permission for farmers to plant up to 95% of their fields with this new corn. This corn, dubbed “SmartStax” because it stacks two genetic modifications together to supposedly create less opportunity for insect immunity, is being touted as the answer to rootworm resistance.
However, scientists are advising caution. The corn doesn’t appear to be as effective as thought, especially since rootworms are being found with an immunity to one of the genes. That resistance makes the genetic stack useless. There is enormous damage that could be done to corn crops and the consequences of that damage would be a drastic increase in corn prices due to the havoc from stunted corn yields.
Because of ethanol, corn prices are already astronomically high, creating higher food prices across the board. Because farming, as an industry, is run more by bankers than it is by farmers (as is the rest of the economy), crop rotation may not even be an option for farmers who are trying to grapple with the problem. Banks appear to want the most yield for the money, regardless of agricultural implications.
“It raises real questions about how stable this house of cards is,” concluded one of the researchers from the University of Minnesota.