Thursday, June 20, 2013
AUGUSTA -- The state Board of Pesticides Control is considering an application from multinational biotech company Monsanto to register a new genetically engineered corn with a built-in pesticide for use in Maine.
Monsanto has applied to register its new Bacillus thuringiensis corn product -- also known as Bt corn.
In July 2007, the board first approved product registration requests for several Bt field corns. Since then, 18 modified seeds have been allowed to be planted in Maine.
The total acreage of Bt corn planted in Maine last year was 4,005. In Kennebec County, 1,837 acres of it were planted -- more than any other county.
The board's toxicologist, Lebelle Hicks, said the new Monsanto product has field corn and sweet corn uses on the label -- which is nothing new in Maine -- but has other attributes that have not been registered here.
She said staff held up the registration process until the Board of Pesticides Control's Medical Advisory Committee could report on the dietary safety of the product.
"The label's got both field and sweet corn on it, and we've been registering products for both of those uses since 2008, so having product with both corn is not a new thing," Hicks said Thursday.
"The only new thing is that the protein has attributes of three different proteins that came out of the Bt, and that's something the Medical Advisory Committee looked at," Hicks said. "I'm still trying to get the final edits on that, but it's just not happening yet."
She said members of the board have copies of the draft report from the Medical Advisory Committee they can use in today's discussion. The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. at the John E. Dority Safety & Performance Training Center at 10 Mountain Ave., Fairfield.
Hicks said protein toxins produced by Bacillus thuringiensis, a spore-forming bacterium, kills insects by destroying their innards. When an insect eats a plant containing the spores, it remains alive for several days, but then its gut becomes paralyzed and it cannot eat.
Board of Pesticides Control member John Jemison, of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said the different corn hybrids produce different toxin proteins.
"The one we're asked to approve (today), it's a little bit different," Jemison said. "What they got basically is one genetic hybrid that expresses two proteins already registered (with the state) and crossed it with a different corn that has a slightly different protein (toxin) to kill a different insect."
He said Bt produces toxins that are active against lepidopteran insects, such as moths. Different protein toxins are effective on different pests.
"This is still effective on the corn borer and root worms like the other Bt corns we already have, but also is a little bit more effective on a range of other insects like the fall army worm and some we don't even have in our state like some southern insects," Jemison said.
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Executive Director Russell Libby said current data on Bt corn is inadequate to perform a human health risk assessment.
He also said there is a relative absence of nonindustry-controlled safety data on Bt foods, he said.
"MOFGA opposes the registration of the new Monsanto field corns and sweet corns," Libby said. "So far, the (state Board of Pesticides Control's) Medical Advisory Committee hasn't seen studies with conclusive scientific evidence that these plants pass safety standards. We agree with the Medical Advisory Committee."
So does Spencer Aitel, who grows feed corn for Jersey cows on his dairy farm in China.
"We're also an organic farm trying to maintain our crops free of trangenic pollution," Aitel said. "With the increasing popularity with transgenic products, you can't grow corn very easily in the U.S. that isn't cross-pollinated with something genetically engineered, on purpose or by accident."
He alleged most genetically engineered products are designed to increase herbicide sales. He said many of the more advance genetics are coming "stacked" together with the herbicide tolerant traits that one company or another wants to sell.
"They're stacking all these traits that farmers might or might not want on top of the herbicide-tolerance traits," he said. "Monsanto has Roundup, another herbicide is LibertyLink. If you walk out onto your lawn and spray it with Roundup it will die. It kills almost all plants. When you walk into a cornfield that has been genetically engineered and spray it with a herbicide, it doesn't die. It kills everything but the corn."
Mechele Cooper -- 623-3811, ext. 408