Butterflies Vs. Bt Corn

With considerable controversy surrounding the impact of Bt corn on butterflies over the past several years, recent research indicates the fear isn’t as great as once suspected.

Even though pollen from Bt corn can be toxic to butterflies, research results indicate the risk is extremely low. While there has been major concern about StarLink biotechnology crops in recent months, these herbicide-tolerant crops are not likely to be harmful to butterflies as the pollen is not toxic to these varieties.

Not Much Worry

“It would appear that the direct impact on monarch butterflies is probably relatively limited,” says Eldon Ortman, a Purdue University entomologist. Data from recent studies estimate that less than 0.05 percent of monarch butterflies in the Midwest are killed each summer by biotech corn.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to use this new research as it decides whether to renew approval of biotech corn and gene-altered cotton and potatoes. Known as Bt corn for a bacterium gene that makes it toxic to the European corn borer, biotech corn grabbed headlines in 1999 when a Cornell University lab study showed corn pollen could poison monarch butterfly larvae. That finding produced a public outcry in Europe and calls from environmental groups to slow the spread of gene-altered crops.

Even with the latest research findings, biotech critics still believe there’s not enough data about Bt corn to be sure it is safe for butterflies. Even if the crop does prove relatively harmless, they say the issue has served to raise…

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Frank Lessiter

Frank Lessiter has served as editor of No-Till Farmer since the publication was launched in November of 1972. Raised on a six-generation Michigan Centennial Farm, he has spent his entire career in agricultural journalism. Lessiter is a dairy science graduate from Michigan State University.

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