are here: Home
>> Monsanto tests drought-tolerant biotech corn
USA Monsanto tests drought-tolerant
biotech corn by Blake Nicholson (AP)
13-March-2012 Yahoo! News View
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Seed
Co. plans large-scale tests this year of the first government-approved
biotech crop developed to deal with drought.<
The new corn is being introduced as much of the U.S. remains
abnormally dry and areas in the South and Southwest still
face severe drought. Monsanto says the corn won't be a panacea
for drought-stricken farmers but when combined with improved
agricultural practices could help those in areas like the
western Great Plains, where production without irrigation
can be half as much as the national average.
The St. Louis-based company plans on-farm trials from South
Dakota to Texas to quantify how well the corn works before
releasing it commercially next year. Farmers in areas like
western Kansas, which gets about half of the annual rainfall
enjoyed by the eastern half of the state, are eager for
"We're not in a very wet country here," said
Harvey Heier, who has a farm near Grainfield, Kan. "It
would be a big plus ... if it works."
Monsanto developed the corn with a gene taken from a bacterium
commonly found in soil and vegetation. The U.S.
Department of Agriculture decided against regulating
it late last year, essentially approving it for commercial
release. The decision is notable because it marks the first
time USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has
approved a product that has been genetically engineered
to resist drought, rather than a pest or herbicide.
The agency says the corn is safe. Its analysis concluded
the corn wasn't likely to harm the environment, people or
animals and wouldn't boost corn production at the expense
of grasslands and forest, said Michael Gregoire, deputy
administrator of APHIS's Biotechnology Regulatory Services.
Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist for the Union of
Concerned Scientists' Food and Environment Program, said
there's no reason to think the corn might be unsafe, though
he and Bill Freese at the Center for Food Safety say they
wish there were more stringent testing and regulation of
biotech crops. USDA said last November that it plans to
speed up regulatory reviews of biotech crops even more by
streamlining the process, cutting in half the average approval
time of three years. New guidelines could be published as
early as this month.
Officials in the corn and ethanol industries say drought-tolerant
corn could help meet the dramatic increase in demand for
the grain used to make both food and fuel. Public consumption
of corn-based products has more than doubled in the past
30 years, while the ethanol industry's demand for corn has
doubled in the past five years, according to the USDA and
Renewable Fuels Association.
It's not clear whether Monsanto's corn will actually boost
production. The APHIS analysis prepared by Gregoire says
field trial results showing more corn grown per acre under
dry conditions aren't statistically significant but suggest
the corn would do well in drought.
But the analysis also notes some conventionally bred varieties
have drought tolerance and "to some extent, all U.S.
corn varieties have been becoming more drought resistant
Companies such as Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, have
introduced drought-tolerant corn developed through conventional
and molecular breeding. No company but Monsanto has petitioned
APHIS for approval of a genetically engineered drought-tolerant
trait, spokesman R. Andre Bell said.
While Monsanto touts the variety developed with German
chemical company BASF as "the industry's first biotech
drought solution," it's also been careful to limit
expectations. The corn, which is being marketed under the
name DroughtGard, is aimed at areas of the U.S. suffering
moderate drought and is not currently part of the company's
effort to help bring drought-tolerant corn to parched areas
"This isn't a product that we're expecting to grow
in the desert," Monsanto spokeswoman Danielle Stuart
said. "You still need water and nutrients."
Mark Edge, Monsanto's drought marketing specialist, cautioned
that while field trials were promising, they were limited.
This year's tests, involving as many as 250 growers in six
states, should provide better information about where and
how well it works, he said.
"We don't see this as an end; this is a beginning
to understanding how we can use the tools of biotechnology
to interact in this complex arena of yield and (drought)
stress," Edge said. "We expect that our pipeline
will have many more (products) that we bring forward."
Gurian-Sherman predicted the corn will be "a Band-Aid,
not a cure," providing "modest" benefit on
only about one-fifth of the U.S. corn acres that are in
areas of frequent drought.
"I don't think it's useless technology ... (but) we
shouldn't have an expectation that this technology is going
to solve our drought problems in the foreseeable future
— at least severe droughts," he said.
SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center UPLB Campus 4031, Los Baños, Laguna, PHILIPPINES
Telephone +6349 536 2290 ext. 406 / 169 / 135
Fax +6349 536 4105
SEARCA BIC is one of the biotechnology information nodes of the International
Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications Global Knowledge
Center (ISAAA KC) and hosted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center
for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA). It was officially
established in 2000 to address the needs of the region for a highly
credible, sound and factual biotechnology information center in the
Southeast Asian region accessible to various stakeholders.