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Bt Corn for 2002?

October 5, 2001
We are still waiting for word from EPA about whether they will renew the registration period for Bt corn. We have just learned that the conditional registration of Bt cotton has been extended for 5 years, but still there is no word on Bt corn. We assume we will learn something soon. In the meantime, it might be helpful to understand the conditions associated with the renewed registration of Bt cotton. Many, if not all, of these same conditions probably will apply to Bt corn if a renewed registration is granted.

EPA has determined that there is reasonable certainty that Bt cotton will not pose unreasonable risks to human health or to the environment. They arrived at this conclusion after an exhaustive review of information and a huge amount of public input. However, some conditions with the renewed registration of Bt cotton were amended to the registration. According to Stephen Johnson, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, "As a condition of EPA's approval of the Bt cotton registration, we have adopted several provisions to strengthen insect resistance management, improve grower awareness and stewardship, and prevent gene flow from Bt cotton to weedy relatives."

A primary focus of the renewed registration of Bt cotton is resistance management, a strategy we have discussed at length as it relates to Bt corn. For Bt cotton, to reduce the possibility of insects developing resistance to Bt, the amended registration requires that some acres be set aside where non-Bt cotton will be grown to serve as a "refuge." These refuges support populations of insects that have not been exposed to the Bt toxin. The insect populations in the refuges will help prevent resistance development when they breed with any insects that survive Bt cotton fields. All of this should sound familiar because the companies and we have been strongly encouraging the use of non-Bt corn refuges for resistance management of European corn borers since Bt corn became commercially available. However, there are even more conditions regarding resistance management for the renewed registration of Bt cotton.

Other provisions to maximize protection of the public and environment include an EPA requirement that Monsanto, the company that developed Bt cotton, be responsible for monitoring for any potential impacts from its continued use. Monsanto also is responsible for educating growers about the best methods of planting Bt cotton to minimize any potential development of insect resistance or gene transfer to other plants.

So, there you have it. Good news for cotton growers. However, still no news for corn growers. One of the reasons for the delay of the decision regarding Bt corn was that new information about the potential effects of Bt corn on monarch caterpillars has become available, and EPA needed more time to review this information and invite public input. This issue is discussed in the following article.

Detailed information about EPA's decision regarding Bt cotton has been made available on the Office of Pesticide Program's "Biopesticides" Web site, Detailed information about EPA's decision regarding Bt corn will also become available at this Web site.--Kevin Steffey and Mike Gray

Author: Kevin Steffey Mike Gray

The Pest Management and Crop Development Bulletin
Executive Editor: Kevin Steffey, Extension Entomologist

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