October 12, 2010
Most Bt Corn Benefits To Farmers Not Using It

Genetically engineered Bt corn, which contains a bacterial protein that kills the European corn borer (itself an invasive species), so suppresses the corn borer in a region that most of the economic benefits of Bt corn flow to the farmers who do not use Bt corn seed.

Widespread planting of genetically modified Bt corn throughout the Upper Midwest has suppressed populations of the European corn borer, a major insect pest of corn, with the majority of the economic benefits going to growers who do not plant Bt corn, reports a multistate team of scientists in the Oct. 8 edition of the journal Science.

In Wisconsin, 75 percent of the $325 million cumulative economic benefit linked to Bt corn's pest suppression between 1996-2009 went to non-Bt corn growers. Wisconsin currently has about 3.9 million corn acres, with approximately half in Bt corn.

Total cumulative economic benefits from Bt corn run into the billions of dollars in the United States.

Bt corn is genetically modified (GM) to contain a protein from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that kills insect pests. According to the team's calculations, the total economic benefit of Bt corn's pest suppression across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska between 1996-2009 adds up to about $6.9 billion. When the team broke the numbers out by Bt and non-Bt fields, they were initially surprised to find that 62 percent of Bt corn's economic benefit about $4.3 billion went to non-Bt corn fields.

Whle I expect genetic engineering will eventually lead to the creation of species that are highly problematic for humanity I do not expect the big troubles to come from crop genetic engineering. The goals for crop genetic engineering are not very ambitious and focused on reducing costs and improving product quality. The big risks will come when small groups of people create species in order to achieve political goals. When the genetic equivalent of computer script kiddies allow less skilled people to enhance and create species I am expecting some serious mischief.

Other forms of benefit from Bt corn were not captured in this research. So the benefits go beyond those captured by looking at corn alone.

The authors note that their analysis does not consider benefits for other important Midwestern crops affected by European corn borer, such as sweet corn, potatoes and green beans. "Additionally, environmental benefits from corn borer suppression are likely occurring, such as less insecticide use, but these benefits have yet to be documented," says Hutchinson.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 October 12 10:23 PM  Biotech Crops

Biobob said at October 13, 2010 3:09 AM:

I am always struck by the prior instances of such observed population biology behaviors in natural systems. For example, some forms of mimicry exactly mirror these observations about who the actual evolutionary beneficiaries in Batesian mimicry are or how the entire human population benefits when a large enough proportion but not all of the population is eventually immune to some disease such that disease propagation fails.

Perhaps you overestimate the ability of people to successfully gene-engineer and underestimate the difficulties involved in the disease transmission process. In any case, we certainly see a sufficient number of NATURALLY newly evolved troublesome organisms to worry about as it is now. We have strep and staph bacteria, as well as Mycobacter spp. (tuberculosis) resistant to almost all available antibiotics, newly invasive outbreaks of Dengue Fever, uncontrolled and exponentially increasing populations of bedbugs, new strains of flu at least annually, all sorts of nasty incurable retroviruses popping up, stubbornly difficult to eradicate diseases like malaria, pertussis, etc etc. So what if some dork introduces one more ? Add it to the long list, and then go eradicate the idiots.

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