- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave an official go-ahead to the release of a new form of genetically modified corn. It was a smart, safe decision, one which should benefit corn growers and corn consumers alike.
The new corn is designed to grow a pesticide against the four species of beetles that cause corn rootworm. Corn rootworm is commonly called the billion-dollar bug because it is estimated to cost farmers almost $1 billion each year in lost yields and control expenses. Those expenses are mostly related to the procurement and application of pesticides, which must be sprayed up to three times per season to control the rootworm.
Thus, the corn's potential to dramatically reduce the amount of toxin that farmers must spray on their fields to control the pest is probably even more important than its potential to give a healthier bottom line to farmers or to Monsanto, the company that engineered the corn. Even Gregory Jaffe, the biotech project director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, agreed that the corn would reduce the use of insecticides. While seeming to concede the essential point the corn's safety in a press release, he simply criticized the size of the refuge area that regulators ordered to be set up to better control pesticide resistance.
Most pests, whether bacteria or beetles, eventually develop resistance to the treatments used against them it's simply a consequence of evolution. To counter that trend, the EPA ordered farmers who decide to use the new corn to maintain 20 percent of their fields free of it, as genetic refuges to slow the rootworm's ability to develop resistance. While Mr. Jaffe said that the 20 percent area was too small (he wanted 50 percent), the EPA's mandate will only last for the next three years, while the question of resistance can be studied in more detail. Moreover, similar guidelines are in place for other types of genetically modified foods, and they seem to be working properly.
Even though the new corn could eventually be grown on about 15 percent of America's cornfields about 12 million acres Americans probably won't even notice. The new corn will primarily be used as animal feed, and some will be used in corn syrup.
While U.S. farmers have a ready export market for the corn in Japan, Europeans won't see a kernel of it, because the European Union still has a moratorium against importing genetically modified foods. After the crisis in Iraq has passed, the United States should be prepared for aggressive action on this matter.
Notwithstanding European recalcitrance, the EPA's decision to allow the release of the new corn was a good one. Between lower pesticide use and probable price savings for most of the parties involved, the only real loser looks to be the billion dollar bug.

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