Monsanto responds to reports of resistant pests

Western rootworm beetles
Western rootworm beetles climb on a corn stalk.
Photo courtesy John Obermeyer, Purdue University

A Monsanto official is downplaying reports that corn pests are becoming resistant to the company's genetically modified corn varieties.

Federal regulators are studying reports that the corn rootworm may have outsmarted varieties produced by Monsanto, the nation's leading seller of genetically modified corn seed.

The plant is designed to kill the bug, but in several Midwest states, including Minnesota, it looks like the corn is losing its effectiveness.

At a conference in London today, Brett Begemann, Monsanto's executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said problems with corn rootworm have occurred in areas where the corn pest simply overwhelms the plant's genetically engineered defenses. He said about 100 farmers a year have been reporting rootworm crop damage.

"We've been following it for a number of years and watching it," Begemann said. "Do we take it serious? You bet we do. We've been working with every one of those farmers every year that we've been identifying that and they've been coming to us and working with us."

Iowa State University researchers say they've found resistant rootworms in Iowa. Although Monsanto officials are studying the report, they have not said whether the company accepts the Iowa findings.

Problem fields have also been reported in Minnesota, although researchers have not yet confirmed resistance.

Bill Freese, a science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety said rootworm resistance may be growing faster than the company acknowledges.

"In one, two, three years down the line it could spread quite rapidly," said Freese, a frequent critic of genetically modified crops.

A decade ago, Monsanto downplayed the emergence of herbicide resistant weeds until they became a major headache, Freese said.

Many farmers consider the worm-like larvae of the corn rootworm beetle corn's number one enemy. In a state like Minnesota, with a roughly $7 billion corn crop, the rootworm commands attention.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.