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Organic Consumers Association

Insecticides from Genetically Modified Corn Found in Adjacent Streams

In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cary Institute aquatic ecologist Dr. Emma Rosi-Marshall and colleagues report that streams throughout the Midwestern Corn Belt are receiving insecticidal proteins that originate from adjacent genetically modified crops. The protein enters streams through runoff and when corn leaves, stalks, and plant parts are washed into stream channels.

Genetically-modified plants are a mainstay of large-scale agriculture in the American Midwest, where corn is a dominant crop. In 2009, more than 85% of U.S. corn crops were genetically modified to repel pests and/or resist herbicide exposure. Corn engineered to release an insecticide that wards off the European corn borer, commonly referred to as Bt corn, comprised 63% of crops. The tissue of these plants has been modified to express insecticidal proteins, one of which is commonly known as Cry1Ab.

Following an assessment of 217 stream sites in Indiana, the paper's authors found dissolved Cry1Ab proteins from Bt corn present in stream water at nearly a quarter of the sites, including headwater streams. Eighty-six percent of the sampled sites contained corn leaves, husks, stalks, or cobs in their channels; at 13% of these sites corn byproducts contained detectable Cry1Ab proteins. The study was conducted six months after crop harvest, indicating that the insecticidal proteins in crop byproducts can persist in the landscape.


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