Rootworms are the bane of any corn farmer’s existence, and despite the efforts of the world’s biggest biotech agribusinesses to genetically engineer corn to grow their own pesticides, they’re still chewing. Swiss-based Syngenta and St. Louis-based Monsanto are on the defense as scientists accuse their GM corn of being faulty, thanks to a “cross-resistance” to rootworm.
There’s something providential about a lowly beetle so easily wreaking havoc on one of humanity’s most horrifically remarkable creations. Clearly, Mother Nature trumps us every time, but it’s a pill the likes of Monsanto and Syngenta aren’t willing to swallow without a fight.
The Far-Reaching Dangers of Pesticides
Pesticide-resistance pests are nothing new. The Environmental Protection Agency found Monsanto’s GM corn ineffective against rootworms last year, a problem that’s been plaguing farmers in Iowa and maybe Illinois, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Although this may seem like a karmic slap in the face to agribusiness, the problem is forcing farmers to use more pesticides bought from the very same companies. This not only puts farmers and consumers of GM food at risk, it even pollutes nearby groundwater, increasing farmers’ and possibly even locals’ risk of pesticide-related diseases like Parkinson’s. Other conditions and events suspected of being closely linked to pesticide exposure include allergies, miscarriages, birth abnormalities, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
Furthermore, increased use of pesticides and GMOs leads to the creation of more resistant insects, something Lance Meinke, an entomology professor at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln told Bloomberg last Wednesday. The EPA’s assertion that there’s “mounting evidence” of resistance across states adds up to the math.
Monsanto Says, “Don’t Worry, Buy More”
Predictably, Syngenta’s Dir Benson accuses the studies of Sarah N. Zukoff of the University of Missouri (which find that Syngenta’s Agrisure corn may have a cross-resistance with Monsanto’s YieldGard corn, making it prone to rootworm infestation) of being half-baked. Benson adds that the more likely explanation for unexpected damage to the crops was an uncharacteristically early spring providing ripe conditions for high concentrations of bugs chowing down on young plants.
Monsanto adds its own two cents: buy more Monsanto products, like SmartStax, a product containing a second trait that promises to kill rootworms. Normally a friend to agribusiness, a USDA representative says even SmartStax may be ineffective against rootworms, since rootworms may resist “almost certainly possible for every Bt product that is out there.” (Bt is the insecticide used in Monsanto’s YieldGard, which rootworms are resistant to.)
In all this chaos, there are simple ways to avoid pesticides in food as well as overall exposure. They include:
- Buying at least the “dirty dozen” foods organic
- Making your own natural pesticides for your home garden
- Cleaning non-organic produce with a water and vinegar solution