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Bt Corn and Insect Resistance Management: Whither Refuges?

October 3, 2003

Most of you probably have read one or more articles on the USDA findings that more than 20% of farms in 10 midwestern states where Bt corn was planted failed to comply with federal planting requirements for insect resistance management. In other words, more than 20% of growers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin who responded to the survey did not plant non-Bt refuges. Another 6% planted less than the required 20% refuge. In at least one report I read, an official indicated that maybe growers were not familiar with the insect resistance management requirements associated with Bt corn. Please! Bt corn for management of European and southwestern corn borers has been available commercially since 1996--8 years ago. I refuse to believe that more than 20% of survey respondents were unfamiliar with the requirements and guidelines for planting Bt corn and a non-Bt corn refuge, which are widely and readily available. The National Corn Growers Association, state corn growers associations, seed companies and dealers, and university extension personnel all have produced and distributed copious educational and technical information. In addition, companies selling Bt corn are required to notify buyers of the insect resistance management obligations.

I was dismayed by the USDA's findings, and I sincerely hope you were, too. We in agriculture do not need the kind of publicity generated from USDA's report. No wonder the general public is skeptical about our stewardship of products developed from biotechnology. If we ever hope to have access to all worldwide markets for all transgenic crops, we need to demonstrate our ability to take care of business at home.

I urge everyone involved in insect management in field crops to amplify efforts to ensure compliance with regulations associated with Bt corn for control of Lepidoptera pests (e.g., European corn borer, fall armyworm, southwestern corn borer) and corn rootworms. Compliance with insect resistance management requirements demonstrates our sincerity to be good stewards of transgenic technology and should ensure its continued development for agricultural benefits. Also realize that the potential for insects to develop resistance to Bt proteins is real. If European corn borers, corn rootworms, or any other insects develop resistance to Bt in the field, our insect management options dwindle. Let's not make the same mistakes with Bt corn that we have made with overuse or misuse of insecticides.--Kevin Steffey

Author: Kevin Steffey

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

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