Monsanto and Bollgard

        I attended the Public Voice meeting in Washington, D.C. March 14th,
and heard a presentation by Randy Deaton, Technical Manager for New Products
and International Markets, Monsanto, speak about the great success they feel
farmers had last year with Bollgard (Monsanto's Bt-transgenic cotton), and
of course he also stressed the great market success Monsanto and Delta Pine
were having, with sales moving along so fast.  A several page "Bollgard
Backgrounder" put a happy face on the spotty performance of Bollgard
throughout most of the US cotton belt, and was silent on the serious
efficacy problems experienced in most Australian cotton growing regions.  In
Deaton's talk and Monsanto's PR, there are only oblique references to the
fact that Monsanto is as concerned as anyone with resistance, and that
afterall, it is their technology and market to loose, and hence they have a
vested interest in assuring resistance management works.  

        He did not discuss, nor does the "good science" company feel obliged
to report that the spotty control of Bollgard in the field in all regions
undermines completely the always theoretical and weak scientific basis for
the high dose plus refugia resistance management plan that Monsanto
presented, and used to pressure EPA to approve the registration.  The theory
is that through very high expression of Bt in plant tissues, virtually all
feeding leps will die, and hence no resistance gene pool will build up.  It
works fine in parts of all fields, but as long as it works in only 98% of
the fields, or 98% of the time, it is doomed to failure.  

        Nearly all independent consultants and entomologists who have
studied Bollgard in the field report the same thing -- lower portions and
some parts of most cotton plants seem to sustain a fair degree of damage,
and support surviving populations (these will soon become the resistant
members of the population); that in parts of the field where poor soil,
compaction, head-rows, physical injury to the plant from wind/rain, other
unusual circumstances leads to uneven or stunted growth, the plant shuts
down the production of Bt as a survival measure enough to lower levels well
below where they are supposed to be, at least in part of the plant's tissue,
and some insects survive on these plants; we also know now some insects
develop "behavioral resistance", the capacity to avoid the high-expression
parts of the plants.  There are other reasons why entomologists are now
convinced that Bt-transgenic plants have 3 to 5 years max, before burning
out and leaving Bt-resistant genes in a dozen major lep species that will
then have a field day, as it were, in high value fruit and vegetable crops.

        EPA is holding a public hearing 3/21 during which CU colleague
Michael Hansen and I will be presenting some of the data supporting the
above conclusions, in the hope we can convince EPA to pull back the
Bt-transgenics before it is too late. I am sure many others will present
additional data, some of it contradictory, but I suspect no one will argue,
at least not with a straight face, that they are convinced the science shows
that resistance "will not emerge."  In our judgment, the debate is not over
whether, but when, and "who cares" and does EPA have any authority to do
anything about it?  And if so, when?

        The consequences of the loss of Bt on the sustainability of fruit
and vegetable production and food safety are immeasureable.  The loss of Bt
will force thousands of farmers to dramatically increase reliance on toxic
OPs and carbamates, just at the time the Food Quality Protecton Act will be
placing much stricter controls on those high-risk pesticides. How EPA deals
with the information, and how or whether they act to reign Bt crops back in,
is going to be a test of whether corporate PR, determined lobbying, and
political connections wins regardless of what science says.

        I hope people will use the March 21 EPA hearing, and the information
it generates, as a catalyst in making the case to EPA much more forcefully
that the "hundreds of thousands of pounds" of cotton insecticide use
Bollgard may save on cotton (a non-food crop) for a few years is NOT WORTH
the inevitable need to apply MILLIONS of pounds more OPs and carbamates on
fruits and vegetables each year for perhaps decades -- crops which people
eat and about which EPA is ardently trying to reduce risks.  You might ask
any fruit or vegetable grower-friends what they would do for leps control if
they lost Bt to resistance.  You will soon get the picture.  Remind them
Admire is already on the slippery slope of resistance after just two years
of field use.


Charles Benbrook                         202-546-5089 (voice)
Benbrook Consulting Services             202-546-5028  (fax)
409 First Street S.E.                    benbrook@hillnet.com   [e-mail]
Washington, D.C.  20003                  http://www.pmac.net