EPA clears way for Monsanto’s biotech rootworm corn

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved Monsanto’s use of a new plant-incorporated protectant designed to control corn rootworm.

Corn rootworm, a highly destructive pest, causes $1 billion lost revenue annual to the U.S. corn crop, according to the USDA, including a $800 million in yield loss and $200 million in cost of treatment for corn growers.

Could cut chemical use. Battling corn rootworm is also the single largest use of conventional insecticides in the United States. Growers must treat their crop for rootworm damage on more than 12 million acres annually, according to Monsanto information.

Use of the new pest-control tool, approved in Monsanto’s YieldGard Rootworm corn, is expected to result in major reductions in the use of numerous conventional insecticides.

“This new variety of corn pest control holds great promise for reducing reliance on conventional insecticides now used on millions of acres of corn in the United States,” said Stephen Johnson, EPA’s assistant administrator for prevention, pesticides, and toxic substances.

The EPA announced the approval Feb. 25.

Available in ’03. The corn is available for the 2003 planting season, however many growers have already purchased seed inputs for this year.

The YieldGard Rootworm trail will be available in hybrids sold through Monsanto’s branded seed businesses, DeKalb and Asgrow, as well as through licensed, independent seed companies.

The new corn pest control, referred to as MON 863, produces its own insecticide within the plant derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally occurring soil bacterium.

Many of the older alternative insecticides belong to the organophosphate and carbamate chemical classes, which have been the subject of increased EPA analysis and regulatory restrictions since passage of the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996.

Refuge requirements. In order to reduce the possibility of corn rootworm developing resistance to Bt, EPA is requiring Monsanto to ensure that 20 percent of the planted acreage of this product be set aside where non-Bt corn will be grown to serve as a “refuge.”

These refuge areas will support populations of corn rootworm not exposed to the Bt bacterium.

This resistance management strategy was developed as a condition of the registration, and EPA will require routine monitoring and documentation that these measures are followed.

Continuing research. EPA is also requiring Monsanto to conduct additional research on corn rootworm to ensure that optimal long-term resistance management practices are maintained.

As with all similar products, EPA has approved MON 863 for time-limited use which will be subject to reevaluation in several years.

For more information on EPA’s regulation of these products, see: www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/.

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