Finally, the folks who are looking for problems with GMO crops have what they’ve been looking for.
First planted in 1996, Bt corn quickly became hugely popular among U.S. farmers. Within a few years, populations of rootworms and corn borers, another common corn pest, had plummeted across the midwest. Yields rose and farmers reduced their use of conventional insecticides that cause more ecological damage than the Bt toxin.
By the turn of the millennium, however, scientists who study the evolution of insecticide resistance were warning of imminent problems. Any rootworm that could survive Bt exposures would have a wide-open field in which to reproduce; unless the crop was carefully managed, resistance would quickly emerge.
Key to effective management, said the scientists, were refuges set aside and planted with non-Bt corn. Within these fields, rootworms would remain susceptible to the Bt toxin. By mating with any Bt-resistant worms that chanced to evolve in neighboring fields, they’d prevent resistance from building up in the gene pool.
Of course, this isn’t a strictly GMO-related problem. This is a problem of good crop management being more expensive than poor crop management. So the good crop management didn’t happen, and now we have rootworms that are happy eating the modified corn.
The next time someone tells you technology will solve what is fundamentally a regulatory problem, remember that unless we regulate the technology, we don’t solve the problem.