Organic Farmers Sue over Mismanagement of GM Corn

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.


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