New Study Shows Benefits of Bt Corn to Neighboring Farmers

Agricultural scientists have published a study in the journal Science providing evidence that corn that has been genetically engineered to produce insect-killing proteins isolated from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) provides significant economic benefits even to neighboring farmers who grow non-transgenic varieties of corn. 

“This study provides important information about the benefits of biotechnology by directly examining how area-wide suppression of corn borers using Bt corn can improve yield and grain quality even of non-Bt varieties,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in an October 7 USDA news release. 

The researchers estimate that farmers in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin received cumulative economic benefits of nearly $7 billion between 1996-2009, with benefits of more than $4 billion for non-Bt corn farmers alone. The scientists estimated that in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin, borer populations in adjacent non-Bt fields declined by 28 to 73 percent, with similar reductions recorded in Iowa and Nebraska. 

The researchers attribute the collateral benefits enjoyed by non-Bt farmers to area wide suppression of corn borers stemming from long-term plantings of Bt-protected crops. Potato, green bean and other host crops also stand to benefit from area wide reductions of corn borers, the researchers note. The team’s report also highlights the importance of the use of refuge crops—the planting of non-Bt crops adjacent to fields of Bt crops, providing a refuge to which the pests can retreat—and other strategies to slow the corn borer’s ability to develop resistance to Bt and thus maintain the insecticidal proteins’ long-term effectiveness. 

The title of the October 8, 2010 Science article is “Areawide Suppression of European Corn Borer with Bt Maize Reaps Savings to Non-Bt Maize Growers.”

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