Category Archives: Food Sovereignty
by Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
Algona, Iowa — The resurgence of a major corn pest has led to a growing debate about the role of genetically modified corn, and cast doubts on the economic and environmental benefits of one of the nation’s most popular seed lines.
Rootworms have damaged corn plants in Minnesota and other states, and research suggests rootworms have developed immunity to the protections in Monsanto’s genetically modified corn.
Officials at Monsanto, the nation’s leading seed corn company, deny that the pest is developing a resistance to the protein. Instead, they contend that overwhelming numbers of rootworms are to blame for the damage.
Insect experts who doubt the company’s theory include Michael McNeill, an agricultural consultant with his own farm in northern Iowa, about 30 miles south of the Minnesota border.
In a test patch in McNeil’s cornfields, where a recent wind storm left some varieties unhurt, stalks of Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn are lying on the ground.
“You can see how the plant is tipped over,” McNeill said. “The root ball is partially sticking out of the ground.”
As McNeil pried a corn stalk out of the soil and used a knife to knock the dirt off the plant, he quickly spotted root damage.
“This whole side is chewed off,” he said. “You can see where the rootworm has moved up the side of the root, chewed a little tunnel.”
The finding is surprising, given the protective gene Monsanto inserted in the corn. The gene produces a protein designed to kill nearly all rootworms.
But McNeill said he’s seen rootworm damage in his fields with increasing frequency over the last few years. The worm’s potential developing resistance to the gene is one of many reservations McNeill has about genetically modified corn.
The corn does have a lot of fans. In fact, much of the nation’s corn contains the gene. Since it has built-in pest protection, farmers don’t have to use as much insecticide. That saves them money and is also good for the environment.
But an Iowa State University study this summer reported findings that rootworms could eat the plant and survive.
McNeill wonders if the damage in his field means that the superbug has found its way to his farm. But there could other explanations for what he’s found there.