GMO Corn: The Bugs Will Win In the End
We humans are stupid to think we can outsmart bugs who have the ability to mutate and adapt much faster than we give them credit for:
One of agricultural biotechnology’s great success stories may become a cautionary tale of how short-sighted mismanagement can squander the benefits of genetic modification.
After years of predicting it would happen — and after years of having their suggestions largely ignored by companies, farmers and regulators — scientists have documented the rapid evolution of corn rootworms that are resistant to Bt corn.
Until Bt corn was genetically altered to be poisonous to the pests, rootworms used to cause billions of dollars in damage to U.S. crops. Named for the pesticidal toxin-producing Bacillus thuringiensis gene it contains, Bt corn now accounts for three-quarters of the U.S. corn crop.
First planted in 1996, Bt corn quickly became hugely popular among U.S. farmers. Within a few years, populations of rootworms and corn borers, another common corn pest, had plummeted across the midwest. Yields rose and farmers reduced their use of conventional insecticides that cause more ecological damage than the Bt toxin.
In the new paper, Gassmann describes further incidents of Bt resistance in other parts of Iowa. He also found rootworms resistant to a second variety of Bt corn. Moreover, being resistant to one variety heightened the chances of resistance to another. That means corn engineered to produce multiple Bt toxins — so-called stacked varieties — won’t do much to slow the evolution of rootworm resistance, as was originally hoped.
Shorter: Rootworms have figured out a way around Bt corn and they’ve begun destroying corn crops in Iowa again. Farmers don’t want to do the “hard” thing, i.e., rotate the fields they plant their corn on — i.e. crop rotation (Remember that old fashioned thing? Hello!) — which has been proven to work against rootworms:
Breaks in the corn cycle naturally disrupt rootworm populations, but the approach fell from favor as the high price of corn made continuous planting appealing. “Continuous corn is the perfect habitat for rootworm,” said Gassmann.
Greed rears its ugly head again.
I predict we’re heading toward more and “better” GMO corn. The thing is, rootworms will become resistant to that version too. We can alter this seed and that seed and pour chemicals on fields all we want but Mother Nature will win in the end. It’s about time we got off our high horse and accepted that. But will we? Sadly, probably not.