Delaware-based Organic Farms of America has filed suit against neighboring
farmers who plant their fields with genetically modified Bt corn. Bt corn
contains genes from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis. The corn
plant can then produce Bt toxin which is effective against the European
Corn Borer. There is a growing concern that resistance to all Bt toxin
will develop in the European Corn Borer. Organic farmers do not use genetically
modified (GM) seeds.
Using B. thuringiensis toxin to control ECB is not new. Farmers have
been spraying the Bt bacteria as an effective biological control of outbreaks
of ECB. What is new is that Bt corn makes the toxin which is always present,
whether or not there's a problem with ECB. (The amount of ECB varies greatly
from year to year.) Any caterpillar of ECB that mutates and becomes resistant
against Bt toxin will be able to survive, but "normal" ECB caterpillars
will be killed. Eventually, Bt corn will no longer be able to control ECB
and the old-fashioned Bt sprays won't work either.
To slow down this process, university scientists and extension agents
recommend that up to 40% of each field of Bt corn be planted in regular
corn - a part of the field called the "refuge." A refuge would
allow some "normal" ECB to survive and by reproducing with resistant
ECB, the rate of increase of resistance would be lowered.
The lawsuit alleges that some Bt corn growers who neighbor on fields
pf organic farmers are using the non-Bt organically grown fields as refuges
rather than planting any of their own acreage in "normal" corn.
The suit alleges that the organic farmer's crops are being intentionally
imperilled by the failure of the neighbors to follow practices to reduce
resistance to ECB. "This suit is not just about the greed of some
growers, in fact using Bt corn can lead to losses some years. The suit
is about the risks of genetically engineered crops being allowed out into
the wild," says OFA president Sheila Paradis.